A potential ban on Muslims’ entering the United States was one of more controversial issues attached to the campaign of Donald Trump during the 2016 election cycle, but one of his top advisors denied on 22 December 2016 — a few days after a terrorist attack killed 12 people in Berlin — that any such plan was under consideration by the incoming administration.
Kellyanne Conway was had recently been named an advisor to the President-Elect when she appeared on several news programs on 22 December 2016 to discuss the subject of potential additional regulations on Muslims’ coming to the U.S. During a CNN appearance, Conway asserted that “country of origin” rather than religion might be the primary facet of the “extreme vetting” to which Trump has alluded:
Kellyanne Conway, President-elect Donald Trump’s former campaign manager and newly named White House aide, said the new administration would not pursue a ban on Muslims solely based on their religion.
Asked repeatedly if an individual’s religious affiliation would trigger heightened scrutiny, Conway said, “No.”
Instead, Trump will focus more on the country of origin, Conway said.
“You’re going back to over a year ago in what he said about the (Muslim) ban versus what he said later about it, when he made it much more specific and talked about countries where we know that they’ve got a higher propensity of training and exporting terrorists,” she told CNN’s Chris Cuomo during an interview on “New Day,” after he prodded her to share more details.
Other news outlets reported a different angle, inferring that Trump intended to pursue a harsher policy (tantamount to a “ban”):
When asked by reporters at Mar-a-Lago whether the recent attack at a Christmas market in Berlin has him reassessing his proposals, Trump answered vaguely, indicating that he was committed to his “plans,” but not clarifying what those are.
“You know my plans,” Trump said, adding, “All along, I’ve been proven to be right, 100 percent correct.”
Though unspecific, some people have interpreted those comments as a sign that Trump is recommitting himself to his now-infamous Muslim ban proposal. When he first called for it last December, it was roundly condemned by civil liberties groups and even many Republicans — including Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, now Trump’s incoming vice president, who called it “offensive and unconstitutional.”
According to the Washington Post, Trump’s ambiguous response to questions about his plan after the terrorist attack in Germany did little to clarify lingering concerns about the proposal:
A year ago, in a statement, Trump said he wanted a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” … But given an opportunity to clarify his remarks, Trump suggested that his plans stood as he had articulated them early in his campaign. The statement proposing a “complete” shutdown of Muslim immigration remains on Trump’s website. And Trump has not clarified how exactly he would address the issue as president.
Noting that Trump’s original statement stood “sharply criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike” and that “senior aides and surrogates sought to soften the proposal,” the newspaper quoted individuals and groups about ongoing discomfort and confusion caused by the vague putative initiative:
The issue is the source of anxiety for Muslims and advocates across the country.
“I think that at this point, we don’t quite know what he means when he says Muslim ban,” said Faiza Patel, who co-directs the liberty and national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s Law school. “A lot of people have interpreted that as he intends to revive the NSEERS system, which was made in-operational a few years ago,” she added, referring to the registry system developed by current Trump adviser Kris Kobach, which civil rights groups and security experts said unfairly targeted Muslims and provided few security benefits.
Jaime “Mujahid” Fletcher, who founded IslamInSpanish, a center for Muslim Latinos in Houston, said the issue of a registry came up last week when he and other area Muslim leaders met with FBI agents in Houston.
“We met with the head of the FBI in their office,” Fletcher said. “It was all about this new administration coming in: what can we expect from them? Is this going to be a change in the way they approach our community?” He said the meeting was reassuring.
Muslim leaders said they felt that a registry would take America backward and the FBI seemed to agree. “They didn’t foresee us going back to the past. They were reassuring. This is the way they see it,” Fletcher said. It was good to hear, but area Muslims are still concerned, he said. “Obviously the community feels there are orders and commands from higher up and if those are sent down to a local level, will they act? And how much of what they think now could change in the future?”
The Post also quoted a 19 December 2016 statement attributed to Trump, saying of the Berlin attack that “ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad,” and described the president-elect as “[apparently] unfamiliar with the statement issued in his name” two days earlier.
Trump responded to a reporter’s question about a statement he made in the aftermath of the Berlin attack as follows:
Trump said in a written statement in the wake of the attack that “ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad.”
But asked about the focus on an attack against Christians, Trump asked, “Who said that?” and proceeded to qualify it as “an attack on humanity.”
“It’s an attack on humanity. That’s what it is, it’s an attack on humanity and it’s got to be stopped,” Trump said before heading back inside.
Although multiple news outlets used words such as “unspecific” to describe Trump’s previous “Muslim ban” remarks, Conway asserted the president-elect “doesn’t go back and forth on anything based on criticism” and was “impervious to naysayers and critics in terms of them changing policy.” Details of the potential policy in question are still far from clear, however.