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Republican Rep. Mike Johnson Calls Trump Travel Ban 'Common Sense'


The people hoping a court upholds President Trump's temporary travel ban include our next guest. He's Representative Mike Johnson, a freshman Republican congressman from Louisiana who is focusing on immigration issues in Congress. And as lawyers argue in court over the president's executive order, Johnson has spoken up for it.

Congressman, good morning. Welcome to the program.

MIKE JOHNSON: Good morning, Steve. Great to be with you.

INSKEEP: OK. So this has been pretty dramatic these last few days. We've got this executive order. We've got the protests, the chaos at airports. And it's clearly been the foremost issue for homeland security officials, their No. 1 priority. Why was this particular security measure the very most important use of their time?

JOHNSON: Well, first of all, I think it's a matter of common sense that we have to carefully review any persons who are entering our country from areas that we know to be terrorist strongholds. And as has been reported widely, these seven countries that were identified were actually identified by the previous administration and previous Congress. So this is widely regarded by everyone to be - these are the hotbeds of activity.

INSKEEP: Well, let's...

JOHNSON: And we've got to carefully vet who comes in.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that, though. It is true that President Obama's administration focused security attention on them, which seems appropriate. Many people have pointed out that in 2011, they focused extra attention on Iraq. But what the previous administration did was quietly improve security screening without a dramatic ban, without dramatic court fights, without things being thrown out in court. Would it not have been more in the national interest to move in that way?

JOHNSON: Well, I don't think the commander in chief felt that he had the luxury of waiting on this. And there's a number of reasons why this particular measure was needed. Look, it was just September of last year, the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security issued a report and said that somewhere between 800 and 1,800 individuals were accidentally granted citizenship under this new program. And there really hasn't been a top-down interagency or outsider view of the previous administration's updates and the vetting process within the last year...

INSKEEP: Were these 18 - forgive me. Were these 1,800 individuals from the seven affected countries, from Syria and Iraq and so forth?

JOHNSON: Some were, and, I mean, Iran and Syria in particular. And they were noted to be security concerns.

INSKEEP: And these are people who were granted citizenship. We're not talking about visitors or green card holders or anything else.

JOHNSON: That's right. And the issue they said occurred due to a mistake in fingerprinting records. But look, you've had the Department of National Intelligence, the director of the CIA, the secretary of homeland security, they've all acknowledged that terrorists could infiltrate the refugee population. We know it's a specific risk. And so it just makes - to me, it's a matter of common sense that the president does this to pause the process. We're not - he's not singling out a particular religion. He's saying it's now based on geography. And it just makes common sense.

INSKEEP: We're compelled to note, just because this is part of the court argument, now, the president did originally call for a Muslim ban. And according to Rudolph Giuliani, a supporter, he asked Giuliani to come up with a Muslim ban that was legal. That's how we ended up with this process that we have. Are you sure that it's not a Muslim ban?

JOHNSON: I am. I think you have to look at the actual language. I mean, I'm a constitutional attorney. I used to litigate these cases in the court. You have to look at the language of the order itself. And it states expressly that its purpose is to protect the American people from terrorist attacks, from foreign nationals. So it doesn't single out persons of the Muslim faith. It singles out these nations, which, again, have been identified and widely recognized as being the real threat to us.

INSKEEP: Is the intent irrelevant here because the president has pretty much told us the intent?

JOHNSON: Well, look, I don't think you can base the intent on, you know, what Rudy Giuliani said on an interview on Fox News. That's not the basis of the legal analysis. They have to look at the constitutional issue and the statutory authority whether the president had the right to do this. And it was more than 60 years ago that Congress expressly delegated this level of discretionary authority to the president, in 8 U.S.C., Section 1182. That's the statutory debate here. And it says when the president finds that the entry of any aliens or any class of aliens into the U.S. could be detrimental to the interest of the United States, then he has the authority to suspend the entry of those class of aliens. And that's what's happened here and nothing more.

INSKEEP: You're correctly referring to a 1952 law. There's also a 1965 law that may be relevant and the Constitution, of course, that's what's being argued in court. It's no doubt that the president has a lot of power in this area. Has he used that power well? Has this been well executed, in your opinion?

JOHNSON: Well, the execution of it, I think, may have been done more smoothly. I think they've acknowledged that. But the president's only been on the job for a few weeks now. And they'll improve their processes. But that's a different question entirely about whether or not this executive order is legal and appropriate, and it certainly is. And I think, ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court will determine that.

INSKEEP: Congressman, you said in a statement the other day that the media are, quote, "intentionally misrepresenting the content of the president's executive order." What is a story that is intentionally misrepresenting the order?

JOHNSON: Well, we've all heard over and over that this is an effort to single out a religion or even demonize a particular religion - the Muslim faith - and that's not true at all. Look, there's more than 40 countries that are Muslim-majority that were not included in the ban. And, again, we know these seven nations to be the terrorist strongholds. They were identified by the Obama administration.

And look, it's important to point out, as well, that six of the last seven presidents, both Republicans and Democrats, have worked on these same federal laws to keep certain groups of foreigners out of the United States.

So the issue itself should not be one of great controversy. It's a matter of protecting the homeland, which I think most of us would agree, is the president's first responsibility. And I think he's doing that well here.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Congressman, before I let you go, the president made a statement the other day. He was talking at Central Command - United States Central Command. And he said that the media were hiding terrorist attacks, not reporting terrorist attacks. It was a false claim. The White House was asked for evidence that there were hidden terrorist attacks. They came up with a list of many attacks, like the attack on Paris or Nice, France, that we've covered extensively, that other people have covered extensively. It's just a false claim.

But that leads to my question. If the president's policies are right, why does he have to make false statements to defend them? Why can't the truth suffice?

JOHNSON: Well, listen, I think the truth is out there. I think NPR does a fair job in objectively covering that. But, you know, I would point out Fordham Law School's Center on National Security. Their new report - they released a report on ISIS prosecutions in the U.S. They determined that nearly 20 percent of alleged facilitators in ISIS prosecutions, in our country, do involve refugees and asylees. I mean, those kinds of facts are not as widely publicized, but they should be. I think the American people have a right to know that.

INSKEEP: OK, we will look into that study. I really appreciate it, Congressman, thank you very much.

JOHNSON: Thanks, Steve, appreciate it.

INSKEEP: That is Representative Mike Johnson. He's a Republican of Louisiana and a supporter of President Trump's temporary travel ban on visitors from several countries as well as refugees, which is now being argued over in court.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOGO PENGUIN'S, "INITIATE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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