WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama on Tuesday unleashed a blistering verbal assault on Donald Trump and his “dangerous” proposal for a ban on Muslims entering the country, saying the suggestion violates the principles of American democracy and generates rage among would-be extremists.
Dismissing the “yapping” from “politicians who tweet,” Obama described Trump’s suggestions as harmful to the country’s national security.
“We are now seeing how dangerous this kind of mindset and this kind of thinking can be,” he said. “We’re starting to see where this kind of rhetoric and loose talk and sloppiness about who exactly we’re fighting, where this can lead us.”
Obama, sounding infuriated at critiques of his foreign policy, pushed back against criticism for not using the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” And he accused Republicans of fostering resentment among Muslims that could generate further attacks.
“What exactly would using this language accomplish? What exactly would it change?” Obama asked during remarks at the Treasury Department. “Would it make ISIL less committed to try and kill Americans?” he continued, using a different acronym for ISIS.
“Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is none of the above,” he said. “Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away.”
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Obama’s remarks — which also touched on gun control and his efforts against ISIS — placed him squarely in the middle of rancorous political debate that formed in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting. Republicans, including Trump, have used the attack to paint Obama as weak on national security and ineffective in combating the threats emanating from ISIS.
Much of the criticism has centered on Obama’s refusal to use the phrase “radical Islam,” which the White House argues unfairly maligns the entire Islamic faith.
In a brief statement following Obama’s remarks, Trump said Obama “claims to know our enemy, and yet he continues to prioritize our enemy over our allies, and for that matter, the American people.”
“When I am President, it will always be America First,” Trump said. He was expected to respond more fully during an evening event in North Carolina.
Democrats and some establishment Republicans, meanwhile, have suggested that Trump’s rhetoric is harmful in its depictions of Muslim-American communities as complicit in domestic terror attacks.
Speaking after Obama’s remarks, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the President had grown frustrated at hearing “political talking points” being wielded in place of a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy.
Lambasting Trump, Obama in his remarks called on other Republican leaders to denounce the presumptive GOP nominee for his proposed ban on Muslim immigration.
“Where does this stop?” Obama protested, pointing out that recent domestic terror attacks have been carried about by U.S. citizens.
“Are we going to start treating all Muslim-Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminating them because of their faith? We’ve heard these suggestions during the course of this campaign,” Obama said. “Do Republican officials actually agree with this? Because that’s not the America we want. It doesn’t reflect our Democratic ideals. It will make us less safe.”
Obama was speaking at the Treasury Department following a meeting of his National Security Council that was focused on cutting off ISIS financing. The meeting was scheduled before the Orlando attack, though Obama said the government’s response to the massacre was a main focus of the session.
The President is scheduled to travel to Orlando on Thursday to offer support to victims’ families.
In his remarks Tuesday, the President defended his actions against ISIS, lauding the work of the U.S. military in going after terrorists. He said changing his wording about the threat would not alter those efforts.
“The men and women who put their lives at risk and the Special Forces I ordered to get (Osama) bin Laden and are now on the ground in Iraq and in Syria — they know full well who the enemy is,” Obama said. “So do the intelligence and law enforcement officers who spent countless hours disrupting plots. And protecting all Americans, including politicians who tweet, and appear on cable news shows. They know what the nature of the enemy is. So there’s no magic to the phrase ‘radical Islam.’ It’s a political talking point.”
Obama said the debate over using the phrase was “a political distraction.”
In his remarks, Obama did not use Trump’s name, but his target was clear when he referred to the presumptive Republican nominee and called out GOP leaders for not opposing him.
Earlier in the day, the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, issued a similar assault on Trump’s rhetoric, including vague allusions Monday to Obama being sympathetic toward ISIS.
“I have to ask, will responsible Republican leaders stand up to their presumptive nominee or will they stand by his accusation about our President?” Clinton said in Pittsburgh. “I am sure they would rather avoid that question altogether. But history will remember what we do in this moment. What Donald Trump is saying is shameful.”
Obama, in his remarks, also called for Congress to pass tougher gun laws and the renewal of the assault weapons ban.
“We have to make it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on weapons of war that let them kill dozens of innocents,” Obama said. “Enough talking about being tough on terrorism. Actually be tough on terrorism.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement after Obama’s remarks that “Democrats want to talk about anything else because they have lost the national security debate.”
“Nothing President Obama and Hillary Clinton are proposing in response to the Orlando terror attack would have prevented it, but they would infringe on Americans’ constitutional rights to due process and to own a gun,” Priebus said.