'Regrettably, the Rollout Was Confusing'

Paul Ryan has criticized Trump's handling of his immigration order, even while defending the underlying policy.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Updated at 12:31 p.m. on January 31

House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday offered mild criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of the president’s executive order on immigration, saying that “regrettably, the rollout was confusing.” But he stood firmly behind Trump’s move to suspend the refugee-resettlement program and temporarily block entry into the United States from seven majority-Muslim countries.

“What is happening is something that we support, which is we need to pause and we need to make sure that the vetting standards are up to snuff so we can guarantee the safety and security of our country. That is what this does. We want that goal to be achieved,” Ryan told reporters in his first extended remarks on the presidential directive, which roiled U.S. airports, sparked widespread protests, and led to the dismissal of an acting attorney general who defied the White House.

Dozens of Republican lawmakers have criticized either the substance or the implementation of the new restrictions, which initially included green-card holders and interpreters who had helped the U.S. military and diplomatic corps. The speaker has kept close to Trump since his election after denouncing several of his policies during the campaign. And on Tuesday, Ryan struck a middle ground by saying that the policy was correct but that its launch was confusing.

“I think it’s regrettable that we saw some confusion with the rollout of this,” Ryan said after meeting with House Republicans in the Capitol. “No one wanted to see people with green cards or special immigrant visas like translators get caught up in all of this.” He said, however, that after speaking with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, he was “confident that he is going to make sure that on a going-forward basis, he is going to make sure that things are done correctly.”

The speaker acknowledged that the White House did not consult with congressional leaders on the order, but unlike Democrats and some Republicans, he did not accuse Trump of overreaching by acting without Congress. “There’s always a role for Congress,” Ryan said. “But this is clearly in keeping with the president’s authority.”

Ryan downplayed reports that staffers for the House Judiciary Committee helped the Trump transition team draft the executive order without the knowledge of their superiors. The speaker said the panel’s chairman, Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, addressed that report in the private party meeting, and Goodlatte issued a statement defending his staff shortly thereafter:

“My staff on the House Judiciary Committee are some of the best on Capitol Hill. They are experts in their respective fields and I proudly allowed them to provide their expertise to the Trump transition team on immigration law. To be clear, while they gave advice to the new Administration, they did not have decision making authority on the policy. The final decision was made at the highest levels of the Trump Administration, and I support the President’s executive order. My staff had no control of the language contained in the President’s executive order, the timing of the announcement, the rollout and subsequent implementation, and the coordination with Congress. I am proud of my staff—they are an asset to me, Congress, and the American people.”

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