Right-wing media figures echoed misleading claims from President Donald Trump’s administration that his executive order seeking to ban travel from seven specific, predominantly Muslim countries “came from the Obama administration,” citing what they call a 2011 “ban” on “immigration from Iraq” and the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2015. But, as experts have noted, the comparison to the Obama administration's actions in 2011 and 2015 are “misleading,” as “The Obama administration’s 2011 review came in response to specific threat information” and was not an “outright ban,” and the 2015 legislation still allowed visa applications from those seven countries.
Trump Administration Cites 2011 And 2015 Obama Administration Actions On Foreign Travel To Justify Executive Order
Donald Trump: Travel Ban “Is Similar To What President Obama Did In 2011 When He Banned Visas For Refugees From Iraq For Six Months.” President Donald Trump defended his executive order that restricted travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, citing “what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months.” From the president’s January 29 statement:
My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months. The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror. To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe. [Vox, 1/29/17]
Kellyanne Conway: “This List Of Seven Countries Was Offered By President Obama And His Administration” In “The Terrorist Prevention Act” Of 2015. Kellyanne Conway,who serves as counselor to the president, cited “the Terrorist Prevention Act” of 2015 to argue that the “list of seven countries” that the Trump administration chose to restrict travel from “was offered by President Obama and his administration.” From the January 29 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday:
KELLYANNE CONWAY: This list of seven countries was offered by President Obama and his administration. In 2015, Chris --
CHRIS WALLACE (HOST): Well that’s never stopped you before.
CONWAY: Well, but hold on, in 2015, Chris, Congress passed the [Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act], and what it essentially did was that it identified the seven countries, an expanded list from four, and identifying them as a threat. These are countries that have a history of training, harboring, exporting terrorists, and one thing that is very important to recognize that whether you’re the Orlando shooter, -- yes he was born here, but went abroad, was radicalized on the internet -- if you’re San Bernardino, if you are the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston. These are people who traveled abroad, were radicalized, were trained, and then came back and did their blood-letting and massacre here on American soil.
Congress and President Obama’s administration came up with a list of seven --
WALLACE: But this is an executive order.
CONWAY: Right, came up with a list of seven. We’re following on that in week one. This president will certainly keep identifying threats and risks. [Fox Broadcasting Co., Fox News Sunday, 1/29/17]
Right-Wing Media Figures Echo Claim That Basis For Trump’s Executive Order “Came From The Obama Administration”
Fox’s Steve Doocy: “The List Of Countries” The Trump Administration Is Restricting Travel From “Came From The Obama Administration.” Fox News host Steve Doocy claimed that “the list of countries” the Trump administration identified “came from the Obama administration,” adding that they “also suspended refugee status for people coming from the country of Iraq for six months, which is double this particular ban.” From the January 30 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): The main thing to keep in mind is this is temporary. It's all temporary. As for the list of countries, the list of countries came from the Obama administration, and when you look about five years ago, the Obama administration also suspended refugee status for people coming from the country of Iraq for six months, which is double this particular ban. Where was the outrage? [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 1/30/17]
MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough: Trump Said The Administration “Took The Seven Countries From Barack Obama’s List From 2015.” MSNBC host Joe Scarborough claimed that Trump’s “feeling” about the travel ban was that the administration “took the seven countries from Barack Obama's list from 2015 of the seven countries that caused the biggest problems.” From the January 30 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe:
JOE SCARBOROUGH (CO-HOST): But those around [Trump], you can tell, there had been discussions and that those around him, I think, believe that this got off very badly for several reasons. First of all, they didn't explain it to the media, they didn't communicate it properly, they didn't explain what it was and what it wasn't. And then, of course, the much, much larger problem was there was no vetting with the agencies. The president's feeling was, “This is what I promised people to do. In fact, we took the seven countries from Barack Obama's list from 2015 of the seven countries that caused the biggest problems. So we lifted the language from there.” So their feeling was, “It wasn't a Muslim ban. We used Obama's seven countries in 2015, and then they added three more in 2016.” And, of course, they were talking about their 45 Muslim-majority countries that weren't on this list. That's the sort of thing that you don't talk about on Sunday. That's the sort of thing you talk about last week while you're building up to this. [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 1/30/17]
Breitbart.com: “The Order Is Based On Security Reviews Conducted By President Barack Obama’s Deputies,” And Obama Issued A “Ban” On “Immigration From Iraq.” Breitbart.com’s John Hayward claimed that Trump’s executive order “is based on” the “Terrorist Prevention Act of 2015,” and added that President Obama “did indeed ban immigration from Iraq.” From the January 29 article (emphasis original):
The order is based on security reviews conducted by President Barack Obama’s deputies. As White House counselor Kellyanne Conway pointed out on “Fox News Sunday,” the seven nations named in Trump’s executive order are drawn from the Terrorist Prevention Act of 2015. The 2015 “Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015” named Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Syria, while its 2016 update added Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.
“These are countries that have a history of training, harboring, exporting terrorists. We can’t keep pretending and looking the other way,” said Conway.
As for Barack Obama, he did indeed ban immigration from Iraq, for much longer than Trump’s order bans it from the seven listed nations, and none of the people melting down today uttered a peep of protest. [Breitbart.com, 1/29/17]
Townhall: “The Nations That Trump Listed Are The Ones That Were Drafted By Obama.” Townhall’s Matt Vespa claimed “that the list of concerned countries that the Trump administration outlined in the order is based on the one signed into law by the former Obama administration,” and that because “there was a Democrat in the Oval Office, … it was okay at the time.” From the January 29 article:
As the Left and some Republicans lose their minds over President Donald J. Trump’s executive order on immigration, let’s not forget that the list of concerned countries that the Trump administration outlined in the order is based on the one signed into law by the former Obama administration. So, it looks like the Obama White House set the groundwork.
Yet, I don’t remember the Left freaking out over this. I certainly don’t remember them going indiscriminately insane when the Obama White House stopped processing Iraqi visas for six months in 2011 when—surprise! —Al-Qaeda operatives feigned refugee status to get relocated to Bowling Green, Kentucky. And yes, some of the visa applicants who were screwed over worked as intelligence assets and interpreters for the U.S. military, according to ABC News. But remember, there was a Democrat in the Oval Office, so it was okay at the time.
So, it’s not really a Muslim ban and the nations that Trump listed are the ones that were drafted by Obama. [Townhall.com, 1/29/17]
In 2011, Obama Administration Implemented “New Screening Procedures” For Iraqis, But “Did Not Prevent All Citizens Of That Country” From Entering The US
Wash. Post: In 2011, Obama Implemented “New Screening Procedures” On Iraqi Visa Applications, But “Did Not Prevent All Citizens Of That Country” From Entering The US, And It Was In Response “To An Actual Threat.” Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler gave Trump’s comparison to Obama’s 2011 actions to restrict visa-free travel from various countries three Pinocchios, which means the claim contained “significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.” Kessler explained key differences including that “Obama responded to an actual threat” that “Obama did not announce there was a ban on visa applications,” that “Obama’s policy did not prevent all citizens of that country, including green-card holders, from traveling to the United States,” and that “there never was a point when Iraqi resettlement was stopped or banned” under Obama. In comparison, “Trump’s policy is much more sweeping.” From the January 29 article (emphasis original):
First, Obama responded to an actual threat — the discovery that two Iraqi refugees had been implicated in bomb-making in Iraq that had targeted U.S. troops. (Iraq, after all, had been a war zone.) Under congressional pressure, officials decided to reexamine all previous refugees and also impose new screening procedures, which led to a slowdown in processing new applications. Trump, by contrast, issued his executive order without any known triggering threat. (His staff has pointed to attacks unrelated to the countries named in his order.)
Second, Obama did not announce there was a ban on visa applications. In fact, as seen in Napolitano’s answer to Collins, administration officials danced around that question. There was certainly a lot of news reporting that visa applications had been slowed to a trickle. But the Obama administration never said it was their policy to halt all applications. Even so, the delays did not go unnoticed, so there was a lot of critical news reporting at the time about the angst of Iraqis waiting for approval.
Third, Obama’s policy did not prevent all citizens of that country, including green-card holders, from traveling to the United States. Trump’s policy is much more sweeping, though officials have appeared to pull back from barring permanent U.S. residents.
Update: In light of the response from Obama administration officials that there never was a point when Iraqi resettlement was stopped or banned, we are updating this ruling to Three Pinocchios. Iraqi refugee processing was slowed, in response to a specific threat, but it was not halted. The Trump White House, meanwhile, has failed to provide any evidence for its statement. [The Washington Post, 1/29/17]
Foreign Policy’s Jon Finer: The Trump Administration Has “Made A Series Of False Or Misleading Claims About Steps Taken Five Years Earlier By The Barack Obama Administration.” Foreign Policy’s Jon Finer noted that the Trump administration has “made a series of false or misleading claims about steps taken five years earlier,” writing that “The Obama administration’s 2011 review came in response to specific threat information,” and that “Trump administration has provided no evidence, nor even asserted, that any specific information or intelligence has led to its draconian order.” Finer also noted there was “no outright ban” under Obama, unlike with Trump’s order. From the January 30 article (emphasis original):
In light of all that, and particular in light of the new White House’s acknowledged aversion to facts, it may seem like a minor point that President Donald Trump and his advisors, in seeking to justify and normalize the executive order, have made a series of false or misleading claims about steps taken five years earlier by the Barack Obama administration.
Leaving aside the unusual nature of team Trump looking to his predecessors’ policies for cover, it seems worth pointing out this statement obscures enormous differences between the executive order the White House issued on Friday and what the Obama administration did. Here are six important points of differentiation:
1. Scope: The Obama administration conducted a review in 2011 of the vetting procedures applied to citizens of a single country (Iraq) and then only to refugees and applicants for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), created by Congress to help Iraqis (and later Afghans) who supported the United States in those conflicts. The Trump executive order, on the other hand, applies to seven countries with total population more than 130 million, and to virtually every category of immigrant other than diplomats, including tourists and business travelers.
2. Rationale: The Obama administration’s 2011 review came in response to specific threat information, including the arrest in Kentucky of two Iraqi refugees, still the only terrorism-related arrests out of about 130,000 Iraqi refugees and SIV holders admitted to the United States. Thus far the Trump administration has provided no evidence, nor even asserted, that any specific information or intelligence has led to its draconian order.
3. Impact: Contrary to Trump’s Sunday statement and the repeated claims of his defenders, the Obama administration did not “ban visas for refugees from Iraq for six months.” For one thing, refugees don’t travel on visas. More importantly, while the flow of Iraqi refugees slowed significantly during the Obama administration’s review, refugees continued to be admitted to the United States during that time, and there was not a single month in which no Iraqis arrived here. In other words, while there were delays in processing, there was no outright ban. [Foreign Policy, 1/30/17]
AP Fact Check: “Iraqi Refugees Were Admitted Every Month During The 2011 Calendar Year.” An Associated Press fact check said that a White House statement comparing Trump’s Muslim ban to Obama’s 2011 Iraqi refugee plan was “not exactly what happened.” The report continued that Iraqi refugees were admitted into the country every month in 2011, when the Obama administration review went into effect, and that the policy “slow[ed] processing for Iraqi nationals seeking refuge in the U.S.” but did not ban them. From the January 30 report:
TRUMP: In a White House statement Sunday, he said “My policy is similar to what President (Barack) Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months.”
THE FACTS: That's not exactly what happened. According to State Department data, 9,388 Iraqi refugees were admitted to the United States during the 2011 budget year. The data also show that Iraqi refugees were admitted every month during the 2011 calendar year.
The Obama administration did slow processing for Iraqi nationals seeking refuge in the U.S. under the government's Special Immigrant Visa program for translators and interpreters who worked with American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. That happened after two Iraqi nationals were arrested on terrorism-related charges. But that year, 618 Iraqis were allowed to enter the U.S. with that special visa.
Government data show that during the 2011 budget year, more than 7,800 Iraqis were allowed into the United States on non-immigrant visas, including tourists. [Associated Press, 1/30/17]
The 2015 Act Stopped Visa-Free Travel, But Individuals From Listed Countries Could Still Apply For Visas
US Department Of State: Travelers From Countries Identified Under The Visa Waiver Program Improvement And Terrorist Travel Prevention Act Of 2015 Are Not Eligible For The Visa Waiver Program, But Can Still Obtain A Visa. According to State.gov, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 only restricted foreign nationals from listed countries as “no longer eligible” to enter the United States “under the Visa Waiver Program,” but stipulated that “These individuals will still be able to apply for a visa using the regular appointment process at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate”:
Under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):
- Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).
- Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.
These individuals will still be able to apply for a visa using the regular appointment process at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. For those who require a U.S. visa for urgent business, medical, or humanitarian travel to the United States, U.S. Embassies and Consulates stand ready to handle applications on an expedited basis. [State.gov, accessed 1/30/17]
Foreign Policy’s Jon Finer: The List Of Countries That “Trump Is Borrowing From” Was Compiled In “A Totally Different Context” In 2015. Foreign Policy’s Jon Finer explained that Trump’s claim “that the seven countries listed in the executive order came from the Obama administration is conveniently left unexplained” and “is borrowing from a totally different context.” Finer noted that the law Obama signed “did not bar anyone from coming to the United States” and “only required a relatively small percentage of people to obtain a visa first.” From the January 30 article (emphasis original):
6. The notorious “seven countries”: The White House’s claim that the seven countries listed in the executive order came from the Obama administration is conveniently left unexplained. A bit of background shows that Trump is borrowing from a totally different context: soon after the December 2015 terror attack in San Bernadino, Obama signed an amendment to the Visa Waiver Program, a law that allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the United States visa-free (and gives Americans reciprocal privileges in those countries). The amendment removed from the Visa Waiver Program dual nationals who were citizens of four countries (Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Syria), or anyone who had recently traveled to those countries. The Obama administration added three more to the list (Libya, Somalia, and Yemen), bringing the total to seven. But this law did not bar anyone from coming to the United States. It only required a relatively small percentage of people to obtain a visa first. And to avoid punishing people who clearly had good reasons to travel to the relevant countries, the Obama administration used a waiver provided by Congress for certain travelers, including journalists, aid workers, and officials from international organizations like the U.N. [Foreign Policy, 1/30/17]
Mic: Trump’s Executive Order Is “A Total Visa-Issuance Moratorium,” Which Is “More Severe Than Restricting Visa Waiver Access.” Mic.com noted that the 2015 legislation “restricted access to the Visa Waiver Program” for individuals from the seven countries, but still allowed visa applications. In contrast, Trump’s executive order seeks “to bar immigration and visitors from the same list of countries,” which is “a total visa-issuance moratorium” and is “more severe than restricting visa waiver access.”
Obama signed the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act as part of an omnibus spending bill. The legislation restricted access to the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens from 38 countries who are visiting the United States for less than 90 days to enter without a visa.
At the initial signing of the restrictions, foreigners who would normally be deemed eligible for a visa waiver were denied if they had visited Iran, Syria, Sudan or Iraq in the past five years or held dual citizenship from one of those countries.
In February 2016, the Obama administration added Libya, Somali and Yemen to the list of countries one could not have visited — but allowed dual citizens of those countries who had not traveled there access to the Visa Waiver Program. Dual citizens of Syria, Sudan, Iraq and Iran are still ineligible, however.
So, in a nutshell, Obama restricted visa waivers for those seven Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen — and now, Trump is looking to bar immigration and visitors from the same list of countries.
Trump's use of a list created with Democrats' support is obviously geared toward a more nefarious end. A total visa-issuance moratorium is more severe than restricting visa waiver access. [Mic.com, 1/27/17]
AP Fact Check: “There Were No Special U.S. Travel Restrictions On Citizens Of Those Seven Countries.” The Associated Press’ fact check of comparisons between President Trump’s Muslim ban and President Obama’s 2011 Iraqi refugee plan noted that a Republican-led Congress voted for measures requiring visas and “additional security checks for foreign citizens who normally wouldn’t need visas” rather than ban them. The report continued that “journalists, aid workers, and others” could apply for exemptions and that “there were no special U.S. travel restrictions on citizens of those seven countries.” From the January 20 report:
TRUMP: In the same statement, he said “The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.”
THE FACTS: That is misleading. The Republican-led Congress in 2015 voted to require visas and additional security checks for foreign citizens who normally wouldn't need visas — such as those from Britain — if they had visited the seven countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. This was included in a large spending bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed by Obama.
As the law was enacted, the Obama administration announced that journalists, aid workers and others who traveled to the listed countries for official work could apply for exemptions. There were no special U.S. travel restrictions on citizens of those seven countries. [Associated Press, 1/30/17]
CNN’s Tom Foreman: The Seven Countries Are The Same But “To Suggest The Policy Being Proposed Right Now Is A Natural Extension Of What We Lived With So Far, That’s Just Pushing It Too Far.” During a fact-checking segment, CNN’s Tom Foreman explained that while the seven countries are the same, “there was never a point at which no one was being approved under the Obama administration.” Foreman concluded that “yes, absolutely the seven [countries] that Donald Trump is talking about now are the same seven that Barack Obama talked about in his time, but to suggest the policy being proposed right now is a natural extension of what we lived with so far, that's just pushing it too far,” and called the comparison to Obama’s policies “misleading.” From the January 30 edition of CNN’s Erin Burnett Outfront:
TOM FOREMAN: There was never a point at which no one was being approved under the Obama administration, but certainly it was very, very slow. Here seems to be a real key difference, Erin. The Obama administration seems to have done a lot of consultation with the Justice Department, Homeland Security, the intelligence services. All of these people who were going to have to put it in place before it was put into place. Whereas over here, one of the complaints of the critics is to say the Trump administration took a small inner circle, came up with the plan, and then sort of said to many of people in the agencies who felt they should have been consulted, “now you just make it work.” That may be the key.
The bottom line to all of this though is, if you think about the seven nations that we're talking about here, yes, absolutely the seven that Donald Trump is talking about now are the same seven that Barack Obama talked about in his time, but to suggest the policy being proposed right now is a natural extension of what we lived with so far, that's just pushing it too far. We're tempted to just call it false, but we're absolutely going to give this a verdict of misleading. [CNN, Erin Burnett Outfront, 1/30/17]
This post has been updated to include additional examples.