The president issued a separate statement on Sunday defending his actions that was milder in tone. But in a partial walk-back of the policy, administration officials clarified that permanent legal residents—holders of green cards—would mostly be exempt from the ban. “In applying the provisions of the president's executive order, I hereby deem the entry of lawful permanent residents to be in the national interest,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in a statement early Sunday evening. “Accordingly, absent the receipt of significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations.”
Another senior Republican senator, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, added his criticism on Sunday night. “This vetting proposal itself needed more vetting,” he said in a statement. Some of the frustration that Trump’s allies in Congress vented over the weekend may have stemmed from being kept in the dark. A senior Republican aide said the White House did not consult congressional leaders in drafting the executive order, nor did the administration brief them on its implementation on Saturday or Sunday.
Several other lower-ranking Republican legislators also distanced themselves from the executive order over the weekend, as protests swelled at major American airports and cities, including Washington, D.C. Democratic lawmakers have roundly denounced the ban as a violation of American values and the Constitution’s protection against discrimination based on religion. Several, including Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey, have joined the airport protests. Party leaders said dozens of Democratic members of the House and Senate would gather alongside Muslim refugees in front of the Supreme Court on Monday evening to demand that the president reverse his executive order. And in her first criticism of a specific Trump policy since her election defeat, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted Sunday: “This is not who we are.” (Her daughter, Chelsea, joined the protests in New York.)
Despite the criticism from Democrats and some Republicans, however, Trump retained support from the quarter that mattered most: GOP congressional leadership. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who had repeatedly criticized Trump’s proposed Muslim ban during the campaign, issued a statement Friday evening saying the president was “right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country.”
“Our number one responsibility is to protect the homeland,” Ryan said. “We are a compassionate nation, and I support the refugee resettlement program, but it’s time to reevaluate and strengthen the visa-vetting process. This is why we passed bipartisan legislation in the wake of the Paris attacks to pause the intake of refugees.” Other Republicans noted that Trump’s order goes well beyond the legislation that passed the House but was never signed into law by former President Barack Obama. “The president’s executive order issued yesterday went beyond the increased vetting actions that Congress has supported on a bipartisan basis and inexplicably applied to green-card holders, people who are legally within our country who have followed the rules,” Representative Barbara Comstock of Virginia said.