Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran is one of 204 Republicans in the US Congress who have neither defended nor opposed Donald Trump’s ban on refugees.
On Monday at the Capitol, a reporter asked him why he hadn’t weighed in. Cochran — who was first elected in 1978, and is serving his seventh term — said he would leave the question to higher-ranking members of the US Senate.
“That’s above my pay grade,” he said. “There are bigger, more responsible officials who can answer that.”
Cochran added that he didn’t feel the need to voice his views on the ban because there was no imminent bill before the Senate on it. “That’s not something that the Senate is going to be voting on anytime soon,” he said.
Congressional Republicans have split over Trump’s executive order
Last week, Republicans in Congress gave plenty of cover to Trump’s statements and actions, even when controversial. They said they supported his decision to reopen CIA black sites abroad. House Speaker Paul Ryan said he would find money for Trump’s border wall with Mexico. Even Trump’s falsehood about 3 million fraudulent votes being cast in the election went largely unchallenged by congressional Republicans.
The refugee ban is shaping up to be a different story. More than 50 Republicans in Congress have said they support Trump’s decision. But there are pockets of dissent too — so far, at least 34 congressional Republicans have announced criticisms of the ban, including Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
“Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham put some people in a very difficult position by questioning the acts,” said Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma and a supporter of Trump’s decision, in an interview. “Quite frankly, I feel differently about it. This is certainly what the president ran on, and he's doing it.”
Meanwhile, several Republican senators have criticized Trump for rushing through the executive order without consulting them — or even alerting them that it was coming. On Monday, Politico reported that Republican House staffers secretly worked on the immigration order without their bosses’ knowledge, further infuriating senior Hill leaders.
“I know that they said they talked with some staffers on the Hill — not in our office,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker told the Washington Post.
Added one Republican source to Politico of the Trump administration: “Their coordination with the Hill was terrible.”
“People want to figure out what’s actually going on”
For now, the majority of congressional Republicans are either publicly remaining neutral or keeping their opinions to themselves. Vox’s Alvin Chang and Soo Oh reported:
That leaves the large majority of legislators in this final column: those who said nothing or issued a statement that took no real position. …
We visited every single legislator’s website and social media feeds, and it was eerie to see legislator after legislator posting on Facebook about Holocaust Remembrance Day — about how we can’t forget the atrocities, and how we can’t let it happen again.
On the Hill, some Republicans explained their colleagues’ silence by citing the need to get better information than what the press had provided before expressing a firm conclusion.
“In the media, there was a lot of propaganda and not giving the facts. So I think people want to figure out what’s actually going on,” said David Beasley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina and 10-term Congress member, in an interview at the Capitol. “I think we have to figure out what we’re talking about and wait and see. There’s a big knee-jerk reaction right now to everything Trump is proposing — but I think all of this media hysteria will clear itself out.”
On Monday morning, three reporters asked Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer to explain why she hadn’t announced her position on the refugee ban. Fischer declined to comment, and her staff asked for questions to be emailed instead. As of Monday night, they had not responded.
Democrats have reacted by seizing on their colleagues’ silence as evidence that congressional Republicans are privately opposed to the ban but are afraid to cross the president. “A lot of the Republicans I’ve talked to think that Trump has lost his mind,” even if they won’t say so publicly, said Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts. (McGovern wouldn’t say who.) “They know what the right thing to do is. But they’re afraid of crossing Trump.”