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Refugee Travel Ban Exceeded Trump's Authority, Sen. Cardin Says

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Donald Trump's travel ban is on hold, at least for now. A judge in Washington state ruled that Trump's executive order blocking all refugees and visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries should be suspended until the legality of the order can be assessed. For more on this, I'm joined by Senator Ben Cardin. He's a Democrat from Maryland. And he is also the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Senator Cardin, thanks for being with us.

BEN CARDIN: Rachel, it's good to be with you. Thanks.

MARTIN: Vice President Mike Pence said yesterday on "Fox News Sunday" he is confident the White House policy would prevail. He said Trump was, quote, "operating within his authority as president," both under the Constitution and under clear statutory law. What is your take on the strength of the legal challenge against this executive order?

CARDIN: I think the president's executive order goes beyond his authority. But one thing I do know, it makes our country less safe. When we start to say that we are going to have a Muslim ban and a religious test before people can come to this country, or we're going to cut off our refugee program, that's going to make us less safe. Americans abroad are - be more at risk.

We're - the countries that we need to help us, Muslim countries, will be less likely to help us. It doesn't - the refugees are not causing our problems here. It adds to self-radicalization. For all those reasons, it makes us less safe rather than more safe. It's against the values of America. And I do think the president exceeded his authority.

MARTIN: I want to pivot now. I want to ask you about questions that President Trump made recently during an interview with Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor." Bill O'Reilly asked President Trump if he respects Vladimir Putin. And here's what the president said. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR")

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I do respect him.

BILL O'RIELLY: Do you? Why?

TRUMP: Well, I respect a lot of people. But that doesn't mean I'm going to get along with him. He's a leader of his country. I say it's better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight - and Islamic terrorism all over the world...

O'REILLY: Right.

TRUMP: Major fight - that's a good thing. Will I get along with him? I have no idea. It's very possible I won't.

O'REILLY: He's a killer, though. Putin's a killer.

TRUMP: A lot of killers - we've got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country's so innocent?

MARTIN: What did you make of that when you heard it?

CARDIN: It literally got me so upset. To try to compare the United States to Russia - Russia, which is anything but a democratic country, who orders assassinations of people who disagree with President Putin - to compare that to the United States is just outrageous.

MARTIN: Why do you believe President Trump is so hesitant to criticize Vladimir Putin?

CARDIN: You know, I really don't know. This is one of the puzzling things because Russia has done everything they can to hurt us. They've - they've attacked us. They've been not helpful at all in Syria. They've invaded Ukraine, taken over part of that country. Russia's ambition is to go after other democratic countries of Western Europe. I don't understand why President Trump would be cozying up to Mr. Putin and Russia. It makes no sense at all.

MARTIN: As I mentioned, you're the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. And your committee is expected to meet this week about the investigation into Russia's alleged role in the presidential election. What can you tell us at this point about where that inquiry stands?

CARDIN: Well, there's several committees that are looking at what Russia did. And that's important. It's important for Congress to have a thorough investigation. But I personally believe we need an independent commission. When we were attacked on 9/11, we set up a commission to find out what happened and to take appropriate steps to hold those people accountable who attacked us, as well as protect our country in the future. I think we need the same type of an in-depth, independent commission, where people can spend their full time on it. The congressional investigations are looking at specific issues, looking at our relationship with Russia, looking at our intelligence.

MARTIN: But you think that's insufficient.

CARDIN: I think it's important. But I think we need an independent commission also.

MARTIN: What is the outstanding question for you that needs to be answered, presumably by an independent commission, if you can get that?

CARDIN: First, how Russia was able to carry out this attack and use it in a way that could have compromised our elections. And we seem to be totally unprepared for that. Secondly, what can we do to effectively prevent Russia from doing this in the future? We know they also were looking at ways that they could manipulate the vote count. They didn't do that in this election. But they could do it in a future election. So we want to - and then we want more transparency on this. We want not only the American people, but the world to understand that Russia - this current Russia, this Mr. Putin - is trying to bring down our democratic institutions.

MARTIN: Is there an argument to be made that the U.S. could benefit from a new kind of more open communication with Russia in order to resolve things like the fighting in Ukraine and, eventually, a bigger - a bigger problem, like the war in Syria?

CARDIN: Certainly. We want to get along with other countries. But we want them also to understand that when they violate our independence, that we're going to take action against them. Russia will push us as far as they can. If we don't stand tough against Russia's aggression, they'll exercise more aggression. We knew - we saw that in Georgia. We saw that in Moldova. Now we see it in Ukraine.

What's next? If we don't stand tough against that type of aggression, it will encourage more incursions into other free countries. But yes, we want to get along with every country in the world. Russia, being one of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, it's important that we get along with them.

MARTIN: Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat from Maryland, thank you so much for your time this morning.

CARDIN: Good to be with you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.