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Texas congressional delegation largely silent on Trump travel ban

Most members of the Texas congressional delegation remained silent about President Trump's travel ban over the weekend, but one Republican challenged the ban and another — Michael McCaul of Austin — said his input on the order did not include a ban on Muslims.

A protester holds a sign at D/FW airport Saturday.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

WASHINGTON — A lone Republican, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Helotes, joined a handful of the Texas delegation's Democrats in challenging President Donald Trump's executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries. And while the Texas Republican overseeing Homeland Security attempted to distance himself from Trump's action, most of the delegation reacted with silence. 

Five Texas Republicans lined up behind Trump's wide-ranging Friday executive order banning refugees' entry into the United States, even as protesters and attorneys flooded airports across the country and in Texas to dispute detainments. 

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a close but unofficial adviser to the president, told Fox News late Saturday that U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin was an integral player in pulling the policy together.

A spokeswoman for McCaul clarified the Texas Republican's role: "Chairman McCaul and Giuliani wrote a white paper on extreme vetting for then-candidate Trump. It did not include a Muslim ban." 

Travelers from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya are barred from entering the United States for the next 90 days, per Trump’s Friday executive order. The ban set off chaos in major airports across the country on Saturday, where refugees in transit were detained.

McCaul went even further later Sunday in distancing himself from the action, stating that adjustments were necessary and that in the future, "such policy changes should be better coordinated with the agencies implementing them and with Congress."

The actual legal merits of the ban have been widely questioned, and a New York City federal judged blocked some aspects of the order.

“It’s not based on religion,” Giuliani added. “It’s based on places where there are substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country.”

McCaul praised the executive order on CNN on Friday, later clarifying his position on Sunday. And McCaul will be at the center of the implementation of this policy, as the House Homeland Security Committee, which he chairs, provides oversight of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

Throughout the weekend, that department sparked outrage when CBP officials denied attorney requests to see detainees at Washington's Dulles International Airport. 

Back in Texas, Republicans slowly lined up behind Trump. 

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis backed the ban but told McClatchy: "We have heard of brief delays among constituents and are empathetic to any inconveniences while traveling." 

U.S. Rep. Roger Williams defended the ban on CNN and U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, praised it on Facebook. U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Dallas Republican, backed the move as well, according to CBSDFWU.S. Rep. Michael Burgess of Flower Mound said in a statement that Trump had taken “the steps well within his authority” to keep the country safe. 

But most Republican members of Congress — including the states' two U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, were silent. The quiet stance illustrates the stunned, behind-the-scenes concern within GOP congressional circles.

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, a Fort Worth Republican, rode closer to the fence, according to McClatchy. "I am convinced that President Trump made the decision because he believes it will make us safer," she said in a statement. "I cut funding that would increase the number of refugees coming from Syria when I was briefed that we could not adequately vet that population before granting them refugee status to the United States."

But at the same time, she pressed the president to take a balanced approach. "The job of the President is to defend and protect our nation," she said. "We must also protect our well-earned position as a caring and humanitarian nation. I pray we do both."

Sources close to House GOP leadership told The Texas Tribune on Sunday that while most Republicans backed stronger screenings, they found the disorganized rollout and incendiary images of elderly people being detained at U.S. airports to be stunning. 

Democrats — who are essentially powerless in the matter — were in unison with their outrage. 

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth announced on Twitter he was at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, one of the country's largest airports, assisting the detained.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, blamed House and Senate leaders for having "ceded" their power to Trump. "President Trump's ban on Muslim refugees betrays American values while undermining national security and economic prosperity," Castro added in a later tweet.

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas tweeted in support of refugees and immigrants on Sunday afternoon. She said she was waiting to be briefed by her staff so she could "fully provide assistance and guidance to those who need it during this time."

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston called on Trump to rescind his order. "As Americans, we are best when we are true to the values we hold dear, beginning with fidelity to the Constitution and the laws of the United States," Jackson Lee said in a statement. "The executive order issued last Friday by President Trump is a radical departure from these principles and I call upon him to rescind this order immediately."

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, tweeted his opposition to the executive order Saturday night. "Enough with this hate and fear," Doggett tweeted. "We are a land of immigrants. A #MuslimBan would hurt us all. #NoBanNoWall."

Calling the move "un-American," U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke of El Paso asked constituents to reach out to his office for assistance and he retweeted commentary opposing the ban.

The state's GOP leaders were mostly quiet on the executive order with the exception of House Speaker Joe Straus, who in a Sunday statement expressed concerns about the effects of Trump's executive order.

"We all want to prevent those who may wish us harm from entering our country, but it is important that we do so in a way that is consistent with the principles of this country," Straus said. "I am concerned about sending the incorrect message that we are at war with any religion."

Straus also expressed concern about international students at Texas colleges who could be affected by the order.

"I will work closely with higher education leaders to see that those students are not adversely affected," he said.

The offices of both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did not respond to requests for comment. In September, Abbott's office announced that Texas withdrew from the nation's refugee resettlement program, following multiple unsuccessful attempts to block the entry of Syrian refugees to the state — something Trump's executive order will enforce.

Alexa Ura contributed to this report.

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