Three Cabinet secretaries — State’s Rex Tillerson, Justice’s Jeff Sessions, and Homeland Security’s John Kelly — showed up to introduce version 2.0 of President Donald Trump’s new restrictions on travel by residents of seven Muslim-majority countries. But all three of them refused to take any questions from the press.
Tillerson, Kelly and Sessions refuse to take questions -- amazing.— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) March 6, 2017
President Trump himself, meanwhile, signed the order quietly and off-camera.
This marks a double contrast to the first iteration of the ban, which was eventually held up in court. That order was signed by Trump to great public fanfare after a high-profile visit to the Pentagon. In subsequent days, word came out that the order’s text hadn’t really been run by the officials at Homeland Security (who run the Customs and Border Protection*) or State (which issues visas) — the agencies who would would be charged with implementing it. Nor were the lawyers at the Justice Department, who ended up unsuccessfully defending it in court, fully briefed on the matter.
The Trump administration, in short, thought it had a big publicity winner on its hands with the first version of the ban. They rushed it out without an interagency process while trying to draw as much attention to it as possible.
Today’s event is a double reversal of that. Having the three secretaries make a joint appearance is a clear signal that they have actually talked it through this time. Having the president sign it off-camera while the secretaries refuse to take questions is a clear signal that they would like to not talk about this.
The order has also been restructured to try to have less of an immediate and dramatic impact. The long-term impact is similar, though, which is also an effort to minimize attention and countermobilization. Vox’s Dara Lind writes of the order’s substance: “President Trump is by nature loath to admit a mistake, but it’s hard not to read the changes to the executive order as an admission that the rollout of the original travel ban was a legal and political disaster.”
We now see the same thing in the staging and publicity around it. Trump messed up, and he knows it.
An earlier version of this post referred to Customs and Border Patrol which is not the name of an actual agency. Rather, the U.S. Border Patrol is one of the sub-agencies of Customs and Border Protection.