White House Adviser Defends Trump Executive Order On Immigration
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Protests at airports, lawsuits from civil rights groups and consternation from frustrated lawmakers who were left out of the loop - criticism is coming from all sides against President Trump's executive order that suspends admissions of refugees from around the world and restricts travel from seven majority Muslim countries. But the White House stands by it.
We spoke with Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka earlier today. And first, I asked him what, if any, revisions they're making to the order?
SEBASTIAN GORKA: Revision I don't think is the right word to use here. This is an executive order from the highest level of the U.S. government, and now it is being implemented. Certain questions to do with dual citizenship and green cards have already been answered. So now it is the question of the agencies to actually put the wheels in motion.
CORNISH: You said revision isn't the right word, but are changes being made?
GORKA: I'm not going to fall into the narrative of something being forced upon this, you know, that isn't true. No, the presidential executive order is being implemented at the operational level, and those are the best words I would use to describe the process.
CORNISH: I want to ask you about questions raised by some lawmakers. Senator Rob Portman of Ohio said this was an extreme vetting program that wasn't properly vetted. Do you think that the White House could have built a case for this with members of Congress by working with them in the drafting of it - like, heads of committees, say, like Bob Corker and others?
GORKA: I think it's very unfortunate to take a measure that is focused exclusively on increasing the safety of American citizens and try and turn it into some kind of political football. The fact is the 1950s law is explicit in the fact that the mandate for immigration and how immigration is handled and the requirements that individuals come into this nation must meet is in the purview of the president. This is a very simple executive order, and on top of that, it is based upon the Obama administration's identification of these seven nations as of primary concern to the safety of Americans here in the continental United States.
So it's not about politics. It's not about the Congress's being consulted or the mandate of some kind of parliamentary function. It is about the security of our borders and our people.
CORNISH: You've spoken extensively about how you feel that the media has been incorrect in describing these orders. But there has been a kind of groundswell of protest. And what's your response to people who look at this as kind of a moral question, that this is not an approach the U.S. should be taking?
GORKA: I do think that this executive order is a moral question because it's about protecting Americans. And I think the protests or the criticism is really just another reflection of the chattering classes and the so-called echo chamber that Ben Rhodes was so proud of having exploited as the deputy national security adviser. So I think...
CORNISH: You're referring to the Obama administration...
GORKA: Yes, that...
CORNISH: But when you look at all the people at the airports, does that look like chattering classes to you?
GORKA: It does. It does. It looks like people totally disconnected from the reality of November 8. I find it quite amusing, sadly so, but amusing that there seems to be a large portion of the media and maybe the millennials who seem to not understand what happened on November 8.
You know, there are consequences. As a Democrat politician recently said, there are consequences for elections. And as a result, I think these individuals who are protesting need to look in the mirror first and understand what happened on November 8.
CORNISH: So November 8, the Election Day, to you is a mandate for what Donald Trump is carrying out now.
GORKA: (Laughter) Anybody who questions the fact that we have a new president and he should actually be executing the things that were part of his platform really doesn't understand how a republican democracy functions in my opinion.
CORNISH: Before I let you go, I want to ask you one other question because you work with the National Security Council, and you've worked with Steve Bannon in the past of Breitbart News. What's the rationale for elevating him as chief strategist to the principals committee of the National Security Council?
GORKA: Your question provides the answer. What is this individual's title - chief strategist to the president of the United States and senior counselor. The idea that it would be in some way controversial to have the president's chief strategist in the meetings of the National Security Council, again, is rather a peculiar stance to take. This is a man that provides strategic advice at the highest level to the president. Of course having him in the deliberative body that deals with national security is, again, the injection of common sense.
CORNISH: And people have also talked about Stephen Bannon's background with the Navy. Most of his adult life has been in the media. How is that experience relevant?
GORKA: I think you need to look at what Stephen Bannon did in terms of building a media giant that has crushed its left-wing rivals in terms of a breitbart.com. I think one has to look at what he did for the Trump campaign to understand that this is a man who eats and breathes and sleeps strategy. Whether or not he wore a uniform, that's a credit to his service to the nation. But he is really - and I can tell you as somebody who's worked with him for years - a truly strategic mind.
CORNISH: So of value to national security concerns.
GORKA: Without question.
CORNISH: Well, Sebastian Gorka, thank you so much for speaking with us.
GORKA: It's my pleasure, anytime. It's been a delight.
CORNISH: Sebastian Gorka is deputy assistant to the president.
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