STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
As early as today, we may find out what President Trump means by extreme vetting. That's the phrase he settled on for the way he would want to screen visitors from certain countries. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is on the line to talk about this and much more.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.
INSKEEP: What have you learned?
KEITH: Well, a White House official tells NPR that the executive actions would impose a 120-day moratorium on any new refugees entering the United States. That would be designed to give the government time to come up with a plan that prioritizes Christian refugees who are suffering from religious persecution. It would also indefinitely block Syrian refugees from entering the U.S.
INSKEEP: So Christian refugees ultimately would get in a lot more easily than people of other faiths, Muslims particularly?
KEITH: That is the theory - that they are being persecuted overseas and that they would have priority.
KEITH: There would also be a 30-day ban on immigration from seven countries, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Sudan. And President Trump was asked about that in an interview with Sean Hannity that aired last night on Fox News.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HANNITY")
SEAN HANNITY: Let's talk a little bit about the executive orders on Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen and 120 ban that goes to the promise of extreme vetting.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Totally extreme. And beyond just those countries, we're going to have extreme vetting. We're going to have extreme vetting for people coming in to our country. And if we think there's a problem, it's not going to be so easy for people to come in anymore. You look at what's gone on.
I mean, we could just go one after the other. But then you go to other countries, and you look at Nice, and you look at different places all over Europe. And you look at what's happening with Germany. It's a mess. The crime is incredible. And we're just not going to let that happen here.
INSKEEP: OK. Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen - what's notable about that list of countries?
KEITH: Well, they're all Muslim-majority nations. And all of them are in or around the Middle East. But there's also another bunch of countries that are notably off the list, Egypt, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Now, what do they all have in common? They are U.S. allies, and they are all countries where President Trump has done business or tried to make deals. Though, you know, a country like Turkey - it's just - it's had so much trouble with terrorism recently. It's had ISIS recruits spilling over from Syria. But it's not on the list.
INSKEEP: And we're obliged to note that the president has done business in these countries because - recall - he has not fully separated himself from his business. We just don't have a lot of clarity there. We're also obliged to remember that 15 of the 19 hijackers from 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia, which is not on the list.
KEITH: That's right. Another criticism that we've heard since these executive actions have been rumored is that these actions send the wrong message about American values and that it could validate the claim that ISIS has been making that America is not just at war with ISIS but with Islam itself.
INSKEEP: So, clearly, the beginning of a debate - not the end here. And we'll be watching that through the day. Let's talk about Mexico. Tam, why is President Trump not meeting the president of Mexico after all?
KEITH: Well, it seems to be a dispute about who's going to pay for the wall.
KEITH: And President Enrique Pena Nieto announced yesterday that he will not be coming. President Trump then announced that the feeling is mutual.
INSKEEP: OK. So how is the president intending to get Mexico to pay for the wall, if at all?
KEITH: (Laughter) Well, there was new word yesterday. It seemed like a trial balloon that was floated up and exploded and went away very quickly - but the idea of a tax on imports from Mexico that could be as high as 20 percent. Now, that seems like an interesting idea until you realize that the tax would most likely hit American consumers. It would be on consumer goods consumed by Americans so that, ultimately, Americans would pay for the wall - not Mexicans. That idea was sort of quickly - it went up and went away. The White House has been stepping back from it.
INSKEEP: And we should mention there's also talk among House Republicans of a 20-percent, border-adjustment tax that would affect goods brought in from all countries. So we don't really have a lot of clarity about what the heck we're talking about here.
KEITH: No. And this could be related to that.
INSKEEP: We'll keep on that as best we can. One other thing to ask about, Tamara Keith - a number of top officials - career officials - at the State Department resigned. How unusual is that?
KEITH: There's always going to be a lot of turnover when a new president comes into office. But there was a sense that this happened very quickly and sort of suddenly. Some of these people were nudged out. Others are retiring. Trump doesn't even have a secretary of state yet. Rex Tillerson has not been confirmed yet. That is expected to happen soon.
The American Foreign Service Association, which is the professional association for foreign-service officers, put out a statement saying that there is turnover. It's part of the DNA of the State Department - and that they hope that Tillerson will choose people who come through the ranks of the Foreign Service.
INSKEEP: OK. Tamara, thanks very much as always. Really appreciate it.
KEITH: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: So much to catch up on there. That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.