WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday forcefully rebuked Republicans who have berated him for refusing to characterize lone wolf terror attacks by Muslim individuals as acts of “radical Islam.”
Speaking from the Treasury Department two days after a Muslim man shot 49 people to death at a gay nightclub in Orlando after declaring allegiance to the self-described Islamic State group, the president challenged his detractors to identify a single tangible benefit of adjusting his choice of words to describe the attack.
“What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to try to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this?” Obama asked rhetorically, using another name for the Islamic State.
“The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away.”
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump accused Obama of being weak for refusing to describe Orlando shooter Omar Mateen and the perpetrators of last year’s shooting in San Bernardino, California, as part of the threat posed by “radical Islam.” Trump used Sunday’s tragedy as an opportunity to take credit for his previous pledge to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., and he reiterated that proposal in the wake of the shooting -- even though Mateen was born in Trump’s home state of New York.
After Trump's pestering, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton broke from her earlier stance. She said Monday that she is “happy to say” the phrase "radical Islamism" because it means the same thing as “radical jihadism,” a term she has used in the past.
But Obama stood firm. “Not once has an adviser of mine said, 'Man, if we really use that phrase, we’re gonna turn this whole thing around.' Not once,” he said.
Citing Republican lawmakers’ refusal to vote on gun control reforms that would limit access to military-grade weapons -- and to confirm Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam Szubin -- Obama said the GOP's fixation on the term “radical Islam” was a “political distraction” from their own inaction.
Not once has an adviser of mine said, 'Man, if we really use that phrase, we’re gonna turn this whole thing around.' Not once. President Barack Obama
Without mentioning the reality star by name, Obama homed in on Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S., warning of “sloppiness about who, exactly, we are fighting.”
Noting that both Mateen and Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters, were U.S.-born citizens, Obama questioned whether Trump would eventually resort to treating Muslim Americans differently as well, possibly subjecting them to extra surveillance or discriminating against them based on their religion.
“Where does this stop?” he asked.
“Do Republican officials actually agree with this?” Obama continued, directly challenging Republican leadership to take a stand against Trump’s toxic proposals.
Circling back to his rejection of the term “radical Islam,” the president warned against rhetoric and policies that make Muslim Americans feel like they are constantly under suspicion.
“We have gone through moments in our history before when we acted out of fear, and we came to regret it,” he said.
Clarification: This article has been updated to reflect that Hillary Clinton used the phrase "radical Islamism" on Monday, and not the exact phrase "radical Islam."
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar,rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.