Gov. Phil Scott addresses business leaders Monday in Rutland.
Updated at 5:26 p.m.
Gov. Phil Scott and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) on Monday called President Donald Trump’s executive order halting refugee resettlement and banning immigration from seven Muslim nations unconstitutional.
The bipartisan condemnations came during separate events in different parts of the state. Scott, a Republican, addressed the presidential action Monday afternoon while addressing business leaders at Rutland’s Southside Steakhouse.
“I think this infringes upon our constitutional rights,” Scott said in response to reporters’ questions. “So we’re looking for — seeking ways to push back.”
Trump’s executive order, issued last Friday, halted the resettlement of 25 Syrian families in Rutland. Two families relocated to the city in the week before the order was issued.
Speaking earlier that day at the Community Health Centers of Burlington, Welch said he also viewed Trump’s action as unconstitutional.
“But I’m not here as a lawyer. I’m here as a Vermonter,” Welch continued. “I’m here as somebody who wants us not to have a constitutional requirement that guides our behavior, but to have a human consideration to guide our behavior.”
David Carle, a spokesman for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), said Monday that his boss concurred with several court orders issued over the weekend blocking portions of Trump’s action.
“He agrees with the federal judges who have reviewed the executive order that there is a substantial likelihood that it’s unconstitutional,” Carle said.
A spokesman for Vermont’s third congressional delegate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), declined to weigh in on the constitutionality of the executive order. But he provided a statement from Sanders calling it “anti-Muslim.”
“By temporarily barring all immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries and giving preference to Christian refugees, Trump is doubling down on the hateful rhetoric he used during his campaign,” Sanders said in the statement. “Further, he is breaking with the historic tradition of the U.S. and turning his back on those men, women and children fleeing violence, oppression and starvation.”
Vermont’s eight mayors released a statement of their own Monday afternoon arguing that Trump’s order “unconstitutionally” prohibits approved refugees from immigrating to the U.S. The bipartisan group, called the Vermont Mayors Coalition, includes Mayors Bill Benton of Vergennes, Liz Gamache of St. Albans, John Hollar of Montpelier, Thom Lauzon of Barre, Seth Leonard of Winooski, Chris Louras of Rutland, Paul Monette of Newport and Miro Weinberger of Burlington.
“We have sworn oaths to protect our citizens from violence and defend the U.S. Constitution,” the group wrote. “The Vermont mayors support government efforts to develop and implement effective, reasonable and constitutional laws, orders and policies in order to keep our borders and citizens safe and secure. We believe the president’s order falls far short of this standard.”
ACLU of Vermont executive director James Lyall and Congressman Peter Welch on Monday in Burlington
Welch, who delivered his remarks alongside ACLU of Vermont executive director James Lyall, said that he had “never seen an action by the president of the United States that has been so damaging to the tradition of religious liberty” as Trump’s. He said the move would “make us less safe, not more safe.”
Despite the president’s claims to the contrary, Welch said the executive order was “essentially a ban on Muslims coming.” He noted that Trump had called for such a ban during his presidential campaign — and that an adviser, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, told Fox News on Saturday that he had worked with Trump to come up with a legal method to bar Muslims.
“So that’s what it is,” Welch said.
Asked several times Monday whether he saw the executive order as a ban on Muslims, Scott equivocated.
“I think it’s a ban on our way of life,” he said. “I’m opposed to it regardless of whether it’s because they’re Muslim or it’s because they’re from those countries. It doesn’t really matter.”
The governor pledged to “do anything we can to help those who are affected.” But he did not immediately elaborate on how his administration would respond. A spokeswoman said later Monday that a plan was forthcoming.
Asked whether he would stand firm against the executive order, even if the Trump administration tried to withhold federal funding to Vermont, Scott said, “We would challenge that.”
Leahy and Welch both planned to introduce legislation overturning Trump’s executive order. Leahy was also drafting a measure that would “affirm that the United States should remain a global leader in welcoming refugees and asylum seekers,” according to Carle. Welch said he would sponsor additional legislation reinstating visas for residents of the seven affected countries who worked for the U.S. military.