- President says U.S. would ‘validate’ terrorists with label
- Trump offers ‘nothing substantive’ on terrorism, Clinton says
President Barack Obama launched a broadside rejection of Donald Trump’s demand that the U.S. label Muslim terrorists as "radical Islamists," arguing the presumptive Republican presidential nominee risks emboldening America’s enemies and antagonizing an entire faith.
In concurrent addresses in Washington and Pittsburgh, Obama and the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, delivered a one-two punch to Trump in an effort to paint an image of a man unfit to serve as commander in chief.
“We are now seeing how dangerous this kind of mindset and this kind of thinking can be,” Obama said on Tuesday after meeting with his national security advisers to discuss U.S. efforts to combat Islamic State extremists. “There’s no magic to the phrase ‘radical Islam.’ It’s a political talking point, not a strategy."
Both Democrats said Trump’s call a day earlier for special surveillance of U.S. Muslims and a prohibition against Muslim immigration to the U.S. is un-American and dangerous. Clinton described trying to understand Trump’s thinking, saying she had "sifted through the bizarre rants and the outright lies" and concluded that "he has nothing substantive to say."
Trump said on June 12, after a terrorist attack in Orlando, that Obama should resign if he is not willing to describe such incidents as the work of "radical Islam." Several Republican members of Congress have also insisted that Obama use the term in the wake of the Orlando shooting that killed 49 people.
Obama vigorously rejected the idea after the meeting at the Treasury Department, referring to Trump as the "presumptive nominee" of the Republican party without using his name.
"It wouldn’t make us more safe, it would make us less safe, fueling ISIL’s notion that the West hates Muslims," Obama said, using an acronym for Islamic State. His remarks, laced with a hint of anger, demonstrated his frustration with Republican opponents who have repeatedly refused to consider any of the president’s proposals to restrict access to guns.
Obama and Clinton sounded similar themes in their overlapping speeches on Tuesday. Both criticized Trump for his focus on rhetoric in the U.S. fight against terrorism. “It matters what we do, not just what we say,” Clinton said Tuesday.
Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, said he was "not aware" of any coordination on the speeches between the White House and the Clinton campaign.
When she was secretary of state, Clinton had been part of the national security apparatus that met with Obama on Tuesday. She said Islamic State would use Trump’s rhetoric to recruit and that his remarks are “turning Americans against Americans."
Obama also defended the government’s efforts to detect extremists who may be plotting attacks like the one in Orlando and disrupt them.
"We work to succeed 100 percent of the time," Obama said on Tuesday after the meeting. "An attacker, as we saw in Orlando, only has to succeed once. We are all sobered by the fact that despite the extraordinary hard work, something like Orlando can occur."
The meeting was planned before 29-year-old gunman Omar Mateen attacked revelers at the Pulse nightclub on June 12. It is one of a series Obama has convened in recent months to discuss the fight against Islamic State.
Mateen declared allegiance to the leader of Islamic State before carrying out his attack, the FBI said. But he also professed support for other terrorist groups including Hezbollah and al-Nusra, which are at odds with each other and with Islamic State.
Obama has said there is no indication that Mateen was directed by foreign terrorists. He said on Tuesday that Mateen was "angry" and "disturbed" and had "become radicalized."
Trump and Clinton on Tuesday proposed disparate solutions for the problem of lone-wolf terrorist attacks like Mateen’s.
Trump called for a ban on immigration from countries "tied to Islamic terror” and closer monitoring of mosques in the U.S.
Clinton called for tighter controls on gun purchases, especially for those who are suspected of being extremists, as well as bolstered attempts to stem the flow of propaganda, money and fighters across borders.
Obama has also urged stricter gun laws, including outlawing civilian sales of military-style rifles used by Mateen and the perpetrators of previous mass shootings.
Clinton also challenged Trump’s insinuation that Obama sympathizes with terrorists. On Monday in an interview with Fox News, Trump said that Obama "either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind," adding that "he doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anyone understands."
Trump explained his remarks later in a statement to Bloomberg, saying that he believes Obama at times "seems more in support of Muslims than Israel."
Clinton challenged Republicans to repudiate their nominee’s remarks.
"Just think about that for a second," she said. "Even in a time of divided politics, this is way beyond anything that should be said by someone running for president."
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who ran against Trump for their party’s nomination nomination and has refused to endorse him, called his remarks about Obama "absolutely over the top."
“Mr. Trump seems to be suggesting the president is ‘one of them;’ I find that highly offensive," Graham told reporters on Tuesday.
Flow of Fighters
Obama’s meeting at the Treasury Department focused on cutting off funding for extremist groups like Islamic State. Clinton said Monday that it’s “long past time” for leaders in countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait to prevent their citizens from providing money and support to the terrorist group.
Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is in Washington this week for meetings with U.S. officials. It’s not clear if Obama will meet with him.
Obama said the campaign against Islamic State is succeeding, as the group loses territory in Syria and Iraq. He said the ranks of the group’s fighters have been reduced to the lowest level in more than two years. "The flow of foreign fighters including to Iraq and Syria has plummeted," he said.