WASHINGTON/DAMASCUS - U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday denounced a judge who lifted the travel ban he had imposed on citizens of seven mainly Muslim countries, taking an unusual jab at an independent branch of the U.S. government as he vowed to bring back the restrictions.
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Trump's personal attack on U.S. District Judge James Robart went too far for some who said he was undermining an institution designed to check the power of the White House and Congress.
As the ban lifted, refugees and thousands of travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen who had been stopped in their tracks last weekend by Trump's executive order scrambled to get flights to quickly enter the United States.
The Justice Department is expected to quickly argue in court to reverse a restraining order made by Robart in Seattle late on Friday. The judge appointed by former Republican President George W. Bush questioned the constitutionality of Trump's order.
"The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!" Trump said on Twitter early on Saturday. Trump has said "extreme vetting" of refugees and immigrants is needed to prevent terrorist attacks.
Eight hours later, Trump showed no signs of backing down when he tweeted "What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into U.S.?"
SEPARATION OF POWERS
It is unusual for a president to attack a member of the judiciary, which the U.S. Constitution designates as a check to the power of the executive branch and Congress.
Reached by email, Robart declined comment on Trump's tweets.
Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland said Trump went too far by attacking the judge and the integrity of the judicial branch.
"He is undermining the entire system of government, not only the decisions with which he disagrees," Cardin said in a statement.
"Read the 'so-called' Constitution," tweeted Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee.
In an interview with ABC scheduled to air on Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence said he did not think that Trump's criticisms of the judge undermined the separation of powers.
"I think the American people are very accustomed to this president speaking his mind and speaking very straight with them," Pence said, according to an excerpt of the interview.
The court ruling was the first move in what could be months of legal challenges to Trump's push to clamp down on immigration. His order set off chaos last week at airports across the United States where travelers were stranded and thousands of people gathered to protest.
Americans are divided over Trump's order. A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week showed 49 percent favored it while 41 percent did not.
Wes Parker, a retiree from Long Beach, California, held a sign saying "Trump is love" at the Los Angeles International Airport, and said he supported the tighter measures.
"We just have to support the travel pause," said Parker, 62. "If you were a new president coming in, wouldn't you want what you feel safe with?"
Rights groups, Democrats and U.S. allies have condemned the travel ban as discriminatory. On Saturday, there were protests against the immigrant curb in Washington, New York, Los Angeles and other cities.
At the White House, hundreds of protesters chanted "Donald, Donald can't you see? You're not welcome in D.C."
TRAVELERS MOVE WITH HASTE
The sudden reversal of the ban catapulted would-be immigrants back to airports, with uncertainty over how long the window to enter the United States will remain open.
In Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, Fuad Sharef and his family prepared to fly on Saturday to Istanbul and then New York before starting a new life in Nashville, Tennessee.
"I am very happy that we are going to travel today. Finally, we made it," said Sharef, who was stopped from boarding a New York-bound flight last week.
The Department of Homeland Security said on Saturday it would return to its normal procedures for screening travelers but that the Justice Department would file for an emergency stay of the order "at the earliest possible time."
Some travelers told Reuters they were cautious about the sudden change.
"I will not say if I have hope or not. I wait, watch and then I build my hopes," said Josephine Abu Assaleh, 60, who was stopped from entering the United States after landing in Philadelphia last week with five members of her family.
"We left the matter with the lawyers. When they tell us the decision has been canceled, we will decide whether to go back or not," she told Reuters in Damascus, speaking by telephone.
Virtually all refugees also were barred by Trump's order, upending the lives of thousands of people who have spent years seeking asylum in the United States.
Friday night's court decision sent refugee advocacy and resettlement agencies scrambling to help people in the pipeline.
Iraqi refugee Nizar al-Qassab, 52, told Reuters in Lebanon that his family had been due to travel to the United States for resettlement on Jan. 31. The trip was canceled two days before that and he was now waiting for a phone call from U.N. officials overseeing their case.
"It's in God's hands," he said.