President Trump Keeps Muddying His Defense of the Travel Ban

4 minute read

In the wake of the attacks in London, President Trump took to Twitter to again defend his travel ban. Once again, he muddied the waters.

Since Trump signed an executive order in January that suspended entry to the U.S. from seven countries, the White House has defended the travel ban in interviews, press conferences and written statements.

But Trump’s own words keep muddying the waters, making a legal defense of it much more difficult.

At the most basic level, the White House has struggled with whether or not the executive order amounts to a travel ban, arguing at first that it was not, then being contradicted by Trump himself.

“People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” he tweeted Monday morning.

Here is a closer look at the way the messages differed.

Trump on the Campaign Trail

In December of 2015, Trump, then a presidential candidate leading in the polls, called for a “complete and total shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States following a series of coordinated terror attacks in Paris that left hundreds dead.

On January 27, 2017, one week to the day after his presidential inauguration, Trump signed an Executive Order temporarily suspending the refugee program and visa entry for anyone from seven majority-Muslim countries.

“We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas,” Trump said at the time. “We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”

That same day, he said persecuted Christians in the Middle East would be prioritized in any refugee program he implemented.

“Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible—at least very, very tough to get into the United States?” he told the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody. “If you were a Muslim, you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible.”

Sean Spicer Denies the Executive Order is a “Ban”

Despite the clear link between Trump’s campaign promise and the Executive Order, his aides denied he was trying to implement a travel ban.

“Well first of all its not a travel ban,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters January 31, four days after the rollout of the first Executive Order. “He’s using the words the media is using.”

Two days earlier top Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani had told Fox News the President had asked him to put a commission together to try and implement the Muslim ban legally.

But by May, Spicer had referring to the order as a “ban,” at least in passing. Asked at a briefing if the President would disavow his intention to bar Muslims from entering the country, Spicer said, “right now the President is focused on making sure that we make the appropriate arguments to get the ban in place,” insisting that the order was fully lawful.

Trump Again Characterizes it a Travel Ban: “Call it What it Is”

This past weekend, Trump took to Twitter to reiterate his calls for a travel ban, making sure everyone in the cyber space knew what he meant.

Asked about the contradiction at a press conference, Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders demurred.

“I don’t think the President cares what you call it, whether you call it a ban or whether you call it a restriction,” she said Monday. “He cares that we call it national security and that we take steps to protect the people of this country.”

More Must-Reads From TIME

Write to Alana Abramson at