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Muslim exclusions, NSC shakeup reflect Bannon’s growing power

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, left,

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, left, and senior advisor Steve Bannon walk to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Brendan Smialowski

The best or the Breitbart-est?

If Donald Trump went to Washington to knock down the house, Steve Bannon is his bulldozer and wrecking ball.

Bannon — the nationalist firebrand and former Breitbart News honcho — rammed through the order stopping travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries with little to no consultation with the agencies that would have to deal with enforcing it and defending its legality, CNN reported.

When the Department of Homeland Security weighed in Friday night, it said green card holders should not be impeded. Bannon and Trump aide Stephen Miller overruled them. A reversal came Sunday, and green card holders were greenlighted again, except they may get more screening.

It was chaos, but Bannon, like the president, sees virtue in being a disrupter. Which also means a volatile voice has been added to the group with a critical role in White House decision-making on such grave matters as military action.

A Trump order Saturday gave Bannon an A-list seat on the National Security Council. The president demoted the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, and the incoming director of national intelligence, former Sen. Dan Coats, to lesser roles.

‘Stone cold crazy’

Trump’s revamp of the NSC was criticized as a “radical departure” by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who on CBS’ “Face the Nation” called the participation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman “indispensable.”

The president is making a “big mistake,” agreed former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the chairman and the DNI both bring a perspective and judgment and experience to bear that every president, whether they like it or not, finds useful.”

On the same show, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus defended the changes, pointing to Bannon’s experience more than 30 years ago as a naval officer.

Susan Rice, who was President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, tweeted that the move was “stone cold crazy.”

No letup in ban furor

Mass protests against the immigration order flared anew nationwide, including at lower Manhattan’s Battery Park.

“They’re bad for America, they’re bad for humanity, they’re bad for national security,” and they stand against “everything that is American,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said of the orders.

Trump released a statement Sunday afternoon insisting “this is not a Muslim ban” and saying “we will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days.”

In the meantime, federal courts have issued temporary stays on part of Trump’s order, and the legal battles may last for years. See Newsday’s story by Lisa Irizarry and Scott Eidler.

The ACLU says it is seeing a huge surge in donations. 

Why these seven countries?

Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the nations targeted by Trump — Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen — had previously been identified as “countries of concern” by the Obama administration.

But none of the countries whose nationals carried out the Sept. 11 attacks, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, were included. Nor are any of the countries where Trump has business interests, such as Turkey, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Dubai, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Nor was Pakistan, whose nationals have been caught in terror plots.

Pressed about that, Priebus said: “Perhaps other countries need to be added going forward.”

GOP division

It wasn’t just the usual Republican Trump critics who attacked his order, though McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) were among them with a joint statement saying it “will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.”

A statement from Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), whom Trump had considered for secretary of state, said, “This executive order has been poorly implemented, especially with respect to green card holders.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), on CNN’s “State of the Union,” called it “an extreme vetting program that did not get the vetting it should have had.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on ABC’s “This Week” that we need “to remember that some of our best allies in the war against Islamic terrorism are Muslims.” See Newsday’s story by Emily Ngo and David M. Schwartz.

Other Republicans stood with Trump. (See below.)

Trump counterpunch

On Twitter, Trump noted McCain and Graham’s failures as presidential candidates, called them “sadly weak on immigration” and said they’re “always looking to start World War III.” On Monday he blamed protesters, Delta Air Lines computers, and "the tears" of Sen. Charles Schumer for airport chaos over the weekend. 

King: Not a co-author

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani told Fox News that he was part of a group who helped Trump devise a way to adapt his campaign idea for a “Muslim ban” that would pass legal muster — and Giuliani said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) also participated.

King said Sunday that Giuliani was mistaken — he played no role in crafting the order. But King supported Trump’s order, as did Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and the other downstate Republican, Rep. Dan Donovan of Staten Island.

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said: “I am adamantly opposed to targeting whole populations of people based upon their religion. It is un-American.” See Newsday’s story by Schwartz and Tom Brune.

Stony Brook student free, afraid

Among those caught up in the lengthy detentions at JFK was Vahideh Rasekhi, an Iranian sixth-year PhD student in Stony Brook University’s linguistics department who is also president of the Graduate Student Organization.

Released Sunday, Rasekhi said she was “super scared” she would eventually be deported. Another Stony Brook student named Sahar, 32, who declined to provide her last name, said she was waiting for her parents, who were detained coming to visit her. See the story for Newsday by Valerie Bauman, Scott Eidler and Candice Ferrette.

Selden resident Abdulelah Othman — a green-card-holding Yemeni citizen visiting his ailing mother in Saudi Arabia — is now stuck there, his wife told Newsday’s Lisa Irizarry.

What else is happening:

  • Breitbart News had a positive perspective on the White House weekend news. About Bannon, a homepage headline read: “ANOTHER PROMOTION FOR RISING STAR BANNON.” It saw terror-linked Islamists sparking the mass protests against the travel and a favorite boogeyman, liberal megadonor George Soros, behind the lawsuits against it.
  • At Westbury’s Islamic Center of Long Island, saddened members of the Muslim community said the travel ban did not represent the America to which they immigrated, Newsday’s Christine Chung reports.
  • Cardinal Timothy Dolan said he had “some apprehension,” at first blush, about Trump’s action. A broad array of Christian leaders denounced it — including the order’s preference for Christian refugees — but it won praise from others, including evangelist Franklin Graham, The New York Times reported.
  • The widow of football star Pat Tillman, who gave up an NFL career after 9/11 to join the Army — and died in Afghanistan — said Trump’s travel ban is “not what he [Pat] served for and not what he died for.” Marie Tillman said the order “deeply saddened” her.
  • The vetting for Syrian refugees was already pretty extreme. Mostafa Hassoun, who fled to Turkey in 2011 after the outbreak of civil war, wrote for Politico about the exhaustive and thorough 15-month process before he was allowed into the U.S.
  • A massacre in a mosque in Quebec so far doesn't fit the sloganeering of the moment on immigration rules. A motive was elusive early Monday.
  • Rebuffing critics, the Trump White House stood by the wording of its International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, which broke with past practice by not specifically mentioning Jews as victims. “Everyone’s suffering” was “extraordinarily sad,” Priebus said.
  • Trump’s executive order on lobbying Saturday removed some of Obama’s ethics rules instead of strengthening them, Politico reports. While officials can’t lobby the agency they worked in for five years after they leave, they can lobby elsewhere in the government.

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