Trump’s New Travel Ban Replaces Chaos With Calm as Prep Pays OffBy
Stage-managing the announcement dodges repeat of confusion
Details hammered out over dinner Saturday at Mar-a-Lago
The unveiling of the second edition of President Donald Trump’s travel ban came not with a bang but a whisper.
The president made no statement himself, not even a tweet. He signed the order in private. Its enactment was delayed 10 days, ensuring no immediate havoc at airports. The details were carefully outlined for reporters in advance, and the text of the order itself was available to the public less than an hour after Trump signed it.
The rollout was boring by design -- the sort of treatment expected for a minor regulation, not one of the new president’s flagship campaign promises.
It was all a tacit acknowledgment of the calamitous introduction of the president’s first attempt to bar travel from a group of predominantly Muslim countries. Monday’s announcement, by comparison, was carefully stage-managed to quell confusion and controversy.
Trump personally consulted with aides about how to introduce the order during a dinner Saturday night at Mar-a-Lago, his resort estate in Palm Beach, Florida. according to White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, White House Counsel Don McGahn, and top advisers Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller were among his guests.
The president and his team "hashed out the final details of what it would look like and how it would be rolled out," Spicer said. Following the meal, aides at the White House and government agencies were notified that the order would be issued on Monday.
Communications staffers for both the White House and the Department of Homeland Security met Sunday to assemble a fact sheet, talking points, and frequently asked questions for surrogates and reporters, according to a White House official who requested anonymity to discuss internal preparations. No such materials accompanied Trump’s first order on Jan. 27. Officials decided that Kelly, Sessions, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would debut the order in a midday statement following a press call with officials from each of their departments to outline the order’s details and changes from the original.
Kelly, whose department quarterbacked the second executive order, spent Sunday and Monday calling stakeholders and congressional leaders to explain what it would entail.
Meanwhile, the White House went conspicuously low profile. Trump signed the new travel ban out of view of the journalists who cover him. Spicer opted to hold his daily press briefing off-camera, meaning that video of him defending the order -- or trying to explain the president’s explosive and unsubstantiated accusation on Saturday that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, had wiretapped him -- wouldn’t pre-empt the Cabinet secretaries on cable news.
The publicity campaign followed weeks of work by staff at the Department of Justice, as well as visa experts the State Department consulted to carefully hone the language of the order in hopes of averting a successful legal challenge. The process required balancing direct input from the president and Cabinet heads, according to the White House official.
The result was a by-the-playbook rollout that stood in stark contrast from the first executive order, which came to be defined by its hasty and disorganized announcement.
Trump signed the original travel ban during a late Friday afternoon trip to the Pentagon to swear in Defense Secretary James Mattis. Reporters got notice from Spicer that the president would sign the order just minutes before Trump and Mattis took the stage.
It wasn’t immediately clear what he had signed. The text of the order wasn’t publicly released until two hours later. For hours after that, press staffers at the White House were unable to definitively say what countries were affected.
Adding to the confusion, White House officials offered shifting explanations through the weekend about how the order would affect green-card holders and people who already had visas. Congressional and administration aides provided varying accounts of who had been consulted as the order was drafted.
The chaos was amplified by protests building at U.S. airports, where refugees and immigrants who boarded flights believing they’d gained entry to the U.S. were detained and handcuffed as they landed. The ban was eventually blocked in federal court, with the 9th Circuit of Appeals upholding a stay preventing further implementation.
The White House has maintained that it believes the court erred in its ruling and argued the president would prevail if the issue was fully litigated. Trump will likely never find out, as the old order will be revoked when the new one takes effect March 16. Spicer on Monday allowed that the court’s ruling gave the administration time to draft an order that would avoid the judges’ legal concerns.
Attention was paid to "understanding what the court’s concerns were, albeit ones we didn’t think needing to be answered," Spicer said.
And while refusing to publicly concede the White House botched its first attempt at a travel ban, Spicer said the second attempt benefited from having top Trump appointees -- including Tillerson and Sessions -- confirmed and in place at their agencies.
"There should be no surprises, whether it’s in the media or on Capitol Hill," Kelly said during the Cabinet secretaries’ statement on Monday.
They took no questions.