- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2017

New Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly took blame for the botched rollout of President Trump’s new extreme vetting executive order, saying he should have delayed the implementation “just a bit” to let everyone get up to speed.

“This is all on me,” he said as he testified to Congress Tuesday.

Mr. Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order called for a 120-day halt in refugees and a 90-day pause in admitting people from seven majority-Muslim countries.

That policy, though, led to green card holders — legal immigrants who have already been vetted — being denied entry, and also left translators and others who aided the U.S. war effort in Iraq on the outside.

The order has sparked a major political and legal battle.

Democrats have derided the policy as a “Muslim ban” because the seven countries targeted are majority-Muslim. Republicans counter that the countries were picked by Congress and the Obama administration, not Mr. Trump, and said there are dozens of majority-Muslim countries that aren’t targeted.

Federal courts have blocked much of the order from being carried out, questioning whether Mr. Trump had the powers to exclude broad swaths of people.

Mr. Kelly told the House Homeland Security Committee Tuesday that “it’s entirely possible” potential terrorists are gaining entry to the U.S. now, while the courts have halted the policy.

And he defended the need for a pause in admissions, saying the top people at Homeland Security and at the State Department don’t have confidence that they are able to properly screen visitors from troubled countries.

“I’m at a total loss to understand how we can vet people from various countries when in at least four of those countries we don’t even have an embassy,” Mr. Kelly said.

He said the department isn’t contemplating adding any other countries to the list “right now,” and said he hopes some of the seven countries on the list are able to come off it because they are able to start cooperating with U.S. officials.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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