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Donald Trump responds to McCain, Graham to defend immigration policy

FILE - In this Jan. 27, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Donald Trump responded Sunday to a joint statement from senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham that expressed concerns the president’s executive order on immigration “sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country.”

Trump responded via his own release claiming the executive order was “not a Muslim ban.” He also went to Twitter, where he charged the Republican senators with “always looking to start World War III.”

McCain — who also appeared on Face the Nation to criticize the president — and Graham said the policy could help terrorist recruitment rather than improve security.

The response from Trump reiterated that “America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border.”

Large airport protests erupted starting Saturday, a day after Trump signed the order banning travel to the U.S. by citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen. The president also suspended the U.S. refugee program for four months.

A federal judge in New York issued an order Saturday temporarily blocking the government from deporting people with valid visas who arrived after Trump’s travel ban took effect. But confusion remained about who could stay and who will be kept out of the country in the coming weeks. Federal courts in Virginia, Massachusetts and Washington state took similar action.

Trump’s statement to rebuke McCain and Graham defended his executive order and also criticized the media.

“My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months,” Trump’s statement said. “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,” Trump added. “This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order. We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days. I have tremendous feeling for the people involved in this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria. My first priority will always be to protect and serve our country, but as President I will find ways to help all those who are suffering.”

McCain and Graham’s statement to illicit Trump’s defense or his policy reiterated the need to defend the country’s borders but said the executive order was not “properly vetted.”

“We are particularly concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security,” the senators’ statement read. “Such a hasty process risks harmful results. We should not stop green-card holders from returning to the country they call home. We should not stop those who have served as interpreters for our military and diplomats from seeking refuge in the country they risked their lives to help. And we should not turn our backs on those refugees who have been shown through extensive vetting to pose no demonstrable threat to our nation, and who have suffered unspeakable horrors, most of them women and children.

“Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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