President Obama rendered a fiery rebuke of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s Monday afternoon speech on immigration and Islam in which he re-upped calls to ban Muslims from immigrating to America.
The president was visibly irritated as he seemed to take particular issue with an argument repeatedly made by Trump that the president refuses to use the phrase “radical Islam.”
Speaking from the Treasury Department on Tuesday, following a meeting with the National Security Council on the efforts to defeat ISIS (the meeting had been scheduled before the Orlando attack), Obama said using the phrase accomplishes nothing.
“There’s no magic to the phrase ‘radical Islam.’ It’s a political talking point,” Obama said. “What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change?…Is there a military strategy that is served by this?”
The answer, Obama said Tuesday, is “none of the above.” He added,”calling a threat by a different name is not going to make it go away,” slamming the critique as partisan rhetoric that plays into the hands of extremists, an argument he’s made before in his denouncements of critique.
For about 20 minutes, the president lambasted Trump and the focus of his Monday afternoon speech without using the businessman’s name, choosing instead to refer to him as a “politicians who tweet” and the “presumptive Republican nominee.” In an interview with PBS‘s Gwen Ifill, President Obama said he does not like to use Trump’s name in speeches because the nominee seems to be particularly capable of doing his own “marketing.”
On Monday, Trump spoke out against the president’s anti-terrorism strategy numerous times—in a speech and in interviews. At some points, he seemed to imply that the president was willfully oblivious to the goals of terror groups like ISIS. “He doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anybody understands — it’s one or the other and either one is unacceptable,” Trump said in a TV interview Monday.
In a speech later in the afternoon, Trump seemed to suggest American Muslims were implicit in acts of terror. “I want every American to succeed. Including Muslims. But they have to work with us. They know what is going on,” Trump said Monday. “They know that he was bad. They knew the people in San Bernardino were bad. But you know, what they didn’t turn them in and we had death and destruct.”
The values that Trump’s speech championed, Obama said Tuesday, directly contradict the values America was founded upon. “If we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and imply that we are at war with an entire religion then we are doing the terrorist work for them,” Obama said.
He continued, “Where does this stop? The Orlando killer, San Bernardino killer, the Fort Hood killer they were all US citizens. Are we going to start discriminating against them because of their faith?”
President Obama has recently taken on a larger role in the 2016 presidential race. Last week, he endorsed his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. He was scheduled to appear with Clinton at a Wisconsin rally this week, but the event was postponed due to the tragedy in Orlando. His remarks on Tuesday signal he will be keeping an ear out for statements by Trump as the campaign ticks on, firing off rebuttals when necessary.
Though the most emphatic statements from the president came during his Trump admonishment , Obama started his remarks by reflecting on the tragedy in Orlando and updating the news media on the ongoing strategy against ISIS after the meeting with the National Security Council. “Our mission is to destroy ISIL,” Obama said Tuesday, using another name for the terrorist group. Obama said the U.S. had carried out 13,000 airstrikes and killed 120 ISIS leaders and commanders.
Obama also updated the investigation into the killer in the Orlando club shooting, who killed 49 people and left 53 others wounded. Obama said the killer “appears to have been an angry disturbed young man who became radicalized.”
“As I’ve said before, these lone actors or small cells for terrorists are very hard to predict and very hard to prevent,” he said. “We work to succeed 100% of the time. Attackers like the one we’ve seen in Orlando only have to succeed once.”
The president said one way to prevent further violence would be to keep guns out of the hands of those on the terror watch list; gun rights activists have argued doing so could prevent citizens who should not be on the watch list from legally purchasing weapons.