Legal battle over travel ban looms as Trump continues attacks on judge


After a federal appeals court on Sunday rejected President Trump’s emergency bid to reinstate his contentious travel ban, the White House signaled fresh determination to push forward in a legal dispute that is fast becoming a test of executive power.

Meanwhile, visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries targeted by Trump’s temporary ban hurried to board U.S.-bound airplanes to seize what they feared might be a brief opportunity to enter the country.

For the record:

6:25 p.m. Feb. 5, 2017

An earlier version of this post referred to the head of a Yemeni American group as Abdelnaser Almasmary. His first name is Abdonasser.

Trump’s 10-day-old directive — which also temporarily halted the arrival of all refugees coming to the U.S. — sparked worldwide debate over religious discrimination, briefly locked out tens of thousands of valid U.S. visa holders and rattled some close U.S. allies.


It remains in abeyance after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco early Sunday rejected an emergency request by the Justice Department to stay an order by a Seattle federal judge that had blocked implementation of the ban.

The legal fight will continue in the coming days. Though it turned down Trump’s request for an immediate reinstatement of the ban, the 9th Circuit will still consider the administration’s appeal and asked for responses and counter-responses from both sides by Monday.

Several courts around the country have questioned whether parts of the ban are discriminatory. The White House and many Republicans defend it as necessary for national security.

But despite the administration’s attempts to stay on message as a broader constitutional confrontation loomed, the president himself — as has happened often in his nascent administration — proved a potent source of distraction over the weekend through his comments and tweets.

Some Republicans moved Sunday to distance themselves from two days of repeated attacks by Trump against the Seattle federal judge, James Robart, who blocked the ban’s implementation Friday.

“Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!” Trump said Sunday on Twitter. A day earlier he referred to the Republican-appointed jurist as a “so-called judge.”

Also grabbing attention was Trump’s inflammatory comparison of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s deadly reprisals against domestic enemies with American acts of violence.

Asked by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly why Trump had such respect for the Russian leader when “Putin’s a killer,” Trump responded, “We’ve got a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?”

He went on to reference the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. “Take a look at what we’ve done too. We’ve made a lot of mistakes.”

In the same interview, Trump renewed his threat to strip federal funding from California if it proceeds with a proposal to resist Trump’s deportation plans for immigrants here illegally and become the first sanctuary state.

“California in many ways is out of control,” Trump said.

The result of Trump’s latest remarks was that Vice President Mike Pence and other Republicans found themselves spending as much time defending and explaining the president’s comments as advocating for the travel ban.

Democrats expressed dismay over Trump’s Twitter attacks against the judge, saying they suggested the president did not respect the independence of the judiciary.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” said Trump’s ban should have been handled in consultation with Congress. She expected the matter to eventually end up in the Supreme Court — meaning the entire flap could color confirmation hearings for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch.

“The president is not a dictator,” Feinstein said. “The framers of our Constitution wanted a strong Congress for the very reason that most of these kinds of things should be done within the scope of lawmaking.”

Most Republicans defended the need for a travel ban, though many questioned how it had been rolled out, causing chaos and confusion in airports and embassies worldwide.

Several GOP lawmakers took issue with Trump’s personal attacks on the judge and his comments about Putin, rejecting any moral comparison between the Russian leader and the U.S.

“I don’t understand language like that,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We don’t have so-called judges. We don’t have so-called senators. We don’t have so-called presidents.”

Sasse also expressed dismay at Trump’s remarks about Putin.

“There is no moral equivalency between the United States of America, the greatest freedom-loving nation in the history of the world, and the murderous thugs that are in Putin’s defense of his cronyism,” Sasse said. “There’s no moral equivalency there.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said he wasn’t going to “critique every utterance” of Trump’s, but didn’t defend him either. “I obviously don’t see this issue the same way he does,” he said. “America is different — we don’t operate in any way the way the Russians do.”

McConnell also raised concerns over restricting travel. “The courts are going to decide whether the executive order the president issued is valid or not,” the Kentucky Republican said. “There is a fine line here between proper vetting and interfering with the kind of travel or suggesting some kind of religious test. And we need to avoid doing that kind of thing.”

Pressed about Trump’s criticism of the judge, Pence downplayed Trump’s tweets, saying in an interview on “This Week” that the American people were “very accustomed to this president speaking his mind.”

Pence also defended the decision-making process behind the travel ban, one of a flurry of executive orders in Trump’s first days in the Oval Office.

“I think the early days of this administration are going to be described in history books as days of action,” the vice president said.

He said the White House would abide by the court’s decision, but he expressed unhappiness over what he described as judicial efforts to improperly interfere with the president’s authority.

“It’s just very frustrating to the president, to our whole administration, to millions of Americans who want to see judges that will uphold the law and recognize the authority the president of the United States has under the Constitution to manage who comes into this country,” Pence said in another interview, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The travel ban affected some 60,000 valid visas. They were first canceled as a result of the president’s Jan. 27 directive and then reinstated following Robart’s order.

Over the weekend, some travelers who had previously been turned away were able to rebook travel to the United States, setting the stage for some joyous reunions. Friends and family of Yemeni-born Ahmed Alamry waited eagerly for him at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Sunday.

It had taken Alamry nearly nine years to get a visa to join his wife, who is studying to be a doctor in the United States. After being waved off when the ban was imposed, he was finally en route.

“This takes a toll on everyone,” said a waiting friend, Abdonasser Almasmary, who worked as a New York City police officer and now leads a local Yemeni American group.

“This is a great nation built on immigrants,” he said. “That’s what makes us great.”

Immigration advocacy groups have urged those holding visas to travel as soon as possible because the legal outlook remained uncertain.

Court challenges to the ban are underway in a dozen other venues around the country, but the Seattle ruling was the most sweeping. Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union say they hope to overturn the travel ban on constitutional grounds.

In Florida, where Trump is having a golf getaway, the president told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Saturday night that he expected his order to ultimately stand.

“We’ll win,” he said. “For the safety of the country, we’ll win.”

Twitter: @laurakingLAT

Times staff writer Lisa Mascaro in Washington and special correspondent Matt Hansen in New York contributed to this report.


4:20 p.m.: This story was updated with additional background and reaction.

This story was originally published at 10 a.m.