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Ohio Rep. Johnson Explains Why He Supports Trump's Immigration Order


Let's hear a supporter of President Trump's executive order on refugees and some visitors to the United States. He's Congressman Bill Johnson. He served many years in the U.S. Air Force and is now a Republican representing southeastern Ohio, the hilly country along the Ohio River. He's praised the executive order as temporary and precautionary. And he's on the line from southeast Ohio. Congressman, good morning.

BILL JOHNSON: Good morning, Steve. How are you?

INSKEEP: I'm doing fine. Thank you very much, sir. Everybody agrees that it's a dangerous world, that there are terrorists out there. So there's no need to discuss that part of it. What we need to get at here, though, is what is it that makes this specific order, worded as it was - targeting refugees and people from seven countries - what makes that an effective response to the problem?

JOHNSON: Well, the American people certainly don't want to wind up in the same situation, Steve, that we see some of our friends in Europe. You've seen what's happened in Paris with people that have come in under the banner of refugee status. When the president is trying to put caution and restraint in place, he has to comply with the law.

And if you look at Section 11 of the executive order, it's very, very clear that he has every intent of complying with the law. And those seven countries were listed by President Obama and identified by Congress in the past. So President Trump is not doing anything outside the law.

INSKEEP: Well, that's an interesting point because there have been many questions about what the intent of this was. It's been described as a Muslim ban. The president has said that's false. But we also heard on Fox News, over the weekend, from Rudolph Giuliani - big supporter the president - who said that Trump asked him for a Muslim ban. And Giuliani said, let me figure out a way to do this legally. Doesn't that leave it pretty clear what the motivation of this was?

JOHNSON: Well, I think you have to look at the facts. You know, we can use hyperbole, and we can use he said, she said. But you have to look at the facts. You know, there are some 40 predominantly Muslim countries. This deals with seven of them. And if you look at countries like Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Nigeria - just to name a few - these are the largest Muslim populations in the world. And they are not listed.

So the overwhelming majority of the Muslim world is not affected by this executive order. So to call it a Muslim ban - and I appreciate, Steve, that NPR wants to get to the bottom of this because there are good people on both sides of the debate. But to call it a Muslim ban is just adding to the hysteria because that's not what it is at all.

INSKEEP: Well, that raises another question for me, Congressman, because you mentioned there are many countries not covered. There are also American Muslims who are not covered. There have been people from other countries linked to attacks. There have been U.S. citizens linked to attacks. The next time there's an attack, if it's from somebody other than not these seven countries, would you favor the president extending these kinds of targeting to cover more people?

JOHNSON: Look, I don't think we can - I don't think we can throw a blanket over this thing and say every time there's an incident that we're going to - that we're going to put up travel bans and stop certain people from coming into the country. But clearly, there's a precedent for this. You know, President Obama stopped Iraqis from coming in in 2011 for six months - not 120 days, Steve, but six months. And if you go back to the Iranian hostage situation in the '70s, President Carter stopped travel from Iran...

INSKEEP: Well, you raise...

JOHNSON: ...During that time.

INSKEEP: ...You raise a good point there about 2011. I do need to underline a couple of facts here. The Washington Post looked into that and noted that in 2011, it appears the Obama administration slowed visa applications from Iraq in response to a specific incident. And then, when they felt that procedures had been improved, they sped things up again. I want to ask about...

JOHNSON: But Steve, isn't this a slowing? I mean, this is a...

INSKEEP: Well, it's a stopping, actually.

JOHNSON: It's temporary, Steve. It's not a stopping. It's not permanent. It's a temporary thing for 90 days. And here's the point, Steve. If President Trump and those who think that this executive order is irresponsible and over the top - if - those of us who think that it's the right thing to do, then some people may be inconvenienced. But if those who are sensationalizing and exaggerating the executive order and opposition are wrong, then Americans could die, Steve.

INSKEEP: Well, Congressman, let me ask...

JOHNSON: The president has a responsibility to protect and defend the people of the United States.

INSKEEP: Agree about that responsibility, but let me just ask about something you mentioned. You said it's temporary. And that is how the president has described it.


INSKEEP: There are time limits. But the president also said, in a speech during the campaign, we're going to continue this until we can, quote, "perfectly screen people." Will there ever be a moment that you can perfectly screen everyone?

JOHNSON: One thing I've learned in this job is never to say never because you don't know what you're going to do, Steve, when bills come to the floor and political issues come up. And I also understand that there is no perfect solution.

INSKEEP: Doesn't that mean that temporary is going to mean forever then? Forgive me. Doesn't that mean temporary's going to be forever?

JOHNSON: No, it does not mean temporary's going to be forever. I don't think that means that at all. If that were the case, then we would still be slowing Iraqi entrance since 2011. And I don't think that's the case.

INSKEEP: Forgive me, Congressman, just a few seconds. One other thing I want to ask about, the president has said he would welcome religious minorities, including Christians from Syria. There are other religious minorities who are Muslims - for example, Sunni Muslims in Iran. In about 20 seconds, would you personally welcome Sunni Muslim refugees from Iran because they're a persecuted religious minority?

JOHNSON: Well, when the ban is lifted and we can properly vet people, absolutely, Steve, because people will - you know, the bad guys - the bad guys aren't going to comply with the law...

INSKEEP: Remember, there's an exception now. You wouldn't welcome them now?

JOHNSON: What exception are you talking about?

INSKEEP: Exception for persecuted religious minorities.

JOHNSON: Well, certainly there are. Certainly there are.


JOHNSON: And when that time comes, I think that's a situation - that's a circumstance that the president has to consider.

INSKEEP: Congressman Bill Johnson of Ohio, thanks very much for taking our questions. I really appreciate it.

JOHNSON: You bet, bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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