Donald Trump made clear this weekend that he has not rolled back his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, despite top allies insisting that he had.
In accepting the Republican nomination on Thursday night, Trump said the country “must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time it’s proven that vetting mechanisms have been put in place.” Trump made no mention of Muslims in the speech, leading many to conclude that Trump had formally changed his position – just as a number of his top allies, including his running mate, said he had.
During an interview this weekend with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” host Chuck Todd asked Trump whether his comment should be interpreted as a “slight rollback.”
“I don’t think so. I actually don’t think it’s a rollback. In fact, you could say it’s an expansion,” Trump said. “I’m looking now at territory. People were so upset when I used the word ‘Muslim’: ‘Oh, you can’t use the word “Muslim.” ‘ Remember this. And I’m OK with that, because I’m talking territory instead of Muslim.”
Trump first proposed banning nearly all Muslims overseas from the country in early December, soon after a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif. Trump’s original statement – which calls for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” – is still on his campaign website. This position continues to be one of Trump’s most controversial and a key reason that some fellow Republicans do not want to help him with his campaign.
After he became the presumptive nominee, Trump made comments that seemed to indicate that he was willing to soften his position. In May, Trump said that the Muslim ban is “just a suggestion” and that he’s open to other ideas. In June, after the attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Trump called for a temporary ban on “certain people coming from certain horrible – where you have tremendous terrorism in the world, you know what those places are.” At the time, it appeared that Trump was expanding his ban to include more people, not limiting its scope, but his staff would not confirm where their boss stood.
Later that month, during a visit to one of his golf courses in Scotland, a reporter asked Trump whether he would be OK with a Muslim from Scotland coming into the United States, and he said it “wouldn’t bother me.” Afterward, spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in an email that Trump’s ban would apply only to Muslims in states with high risks of terrorism, but she would not confirm that the ban would not apply to non-Muslims from those countries or to Muslims living in peaceful countries.
More recently, several of his top allies have said that the nominee no longer wants a religion-based ban. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, criticized Trump’s original proposal but says he can support Trump’s current position, which he described as temporarily suspending “immigration from countries where terrorist influence and impact represents a threat to the United States.” Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, also has pushed that characterization of the ban, while dodging questions on whether it would still target followers of Islam. Reince Priebus, the Republican Party chairman, said last weekend that Trump has moved away from his original proposal and that “there is no religious test on the table.”
In the “Meet the Press” interview, which was conducted Saturday, Trump said his proposed ban is constitutional.
“Just remember this: Our Constitution is great, but it doesn’t necessarily give us the right to commit suicide, OK?” he said. “Now, we have a religious, you know, everybody wants to be protected. And that’s great. And that’s the wonderful part of our Constitution. I view it differently. Why are we committing suicide? Why are we doing it? But you know what? I live with our Constitution. I love our Constitution. I cherish our Constitution. We’re making it territorial. We have nations and we’ll come out, I’m going to be coming out over the next few weeks with a number of the places.”
Todd then pressed Trump on specific scenarios: France and Germany have been compromised by terrorism, so would he limit all immigration from these countries?
Trump repeatedly avoided answering the question, instead saying that it’s the fault of these countries that they have been attacked by terrorists.
“You could get to the point where you’re not allowing a lot of people to come into this country,” Todd said.
“Maybe we get to that point,” Trump responded. “Chuck, look at what’s happening. Look at what just took place in Afghanistan, where they blow up a whole shopping center with people, they have no idea how many people were even killed. Happened today. So we have to be smart and we have to be vigilant and we have to be strong. We can’t be the super people.”
Todd again pushed Trump on how he would handle immigrants from France, Germany and Spain.
“Here is what I want: extreme vetting,” Trump said. “Tough word – extreme vetting. We have to have tough, we’re going to have tough standards. And if a person can’t prove that they’re from an area, and if a person can’t prove what they have to be able to prove, they’re not coming into this country. And I would stop the Syrian migration and a Syrian from coming into this country in two seconds.”
During the interview, Trump was also asked to explain comments he recently made about NATO to the New York Times, saying that if an ally country were attacked, the United States might not defend it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called these comments a “rookie mistake” that “proves that Trump needs people like us around to help steer him in the right direction on some basic things.”
Trump repeatedly said that McConnell is “100 percent wrong” and that as president he would demand that NATO countries that can afford to pitch in and help pay for their own defense do so.
“So all I’m saying is they have to pay,” Trump said. “Now, a country gets invaded, they haven’t paid, everyone says, ‘Oh, but we have a treaty.’ Well, they have a treaty, too. They’re supposed to be paying. We have countries within NATO that are taking advantage of us. With me, I believe they’re going to pay. And when they pay, I’m a big believer in NATO. But if they don’t pay, we don’t have, you know, Chuck, this isn’t 40 years ago. This isn’t 50 years ago. It’s not 30 years ago. We’re a different country today. We’re much weaker. Our military is depleted. We owe tremendous amounts of money.”
Todd also mentioned that former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke is running for Senate and has adopted Trump’s agenda. Todd asked Trump: “Would you support a Democrat over David Duke if that was what was necessary to defeat him?”
“I guess, depending on who the Democrat, but the answer would be yes,” Trump said, repeatedly saying that he has “rebuked” Duke.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Jenna Johnson