White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeatedly denied on Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s executive order barring travelers from certain countries was in fact a “ban,” although the president and Spicer himself called it just that on Monday.
Since Trump signed the executive order on Friday, “1 million people have come into this country. That’s not a ban,” a testy Spicer insisted at the White House daily press briefing. “A ban would mean people can’t get in, and we’ve clearly seen hundreds of thousands of people come into our country from other countries.”
Spicer’s decision to litigate the meaning of a term both he and the president had employed just hours earlier underscores their contradictory attempts to claim credit for keeping a campaign promise while countering critics who say it violates the American ideal of religious pluralism by unjustly targeting Muslims.
The executive order bars travelers from Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Syria from entering the United States, suspends refugee resettlement for 120 days, and suspends the resettlement of refugees from Syria indefinitely. Trump has insisted the travel restrictions are critical to preventing terrorist attacks, though no immigrant from any of those countries has committed a fatal act of terror on U.S. soil.
As chaos and protests dominated airports around the globe on Saturday, Trump told reporters that his executive order was “working out very nicely,” adding “we’re going to have a very, very strict ban.”
Facing growing criticism on Monday, Trump defended his decision not to give travelers any advance warning of the new restrictions ― which he again characterized as a “ban.”
The same day, Spicer told a group of George Washington University students that “the ban deals with seven countries.”
But less than 24 hours later, Spicer insisted that the word “ban” was inaccurate, and that by using it, journalists were perpetuating a false narrative about Trump’s executive order.
When reporters pointed out that it was Trump who had decided to use the word, Spicer said the president was merely “using the words the media is using.”
“But those were his words,” a reporter said.
“It can’t be a ban if you’re letting 1 million people, and if 325,000 people from another [Muslim] country can come in, then that is, by nature, not a ban,” Spicer insisted.
“But the president himself called it a ban,” the reporter continued.
“I understand that,” Spicer barked.
“So is he confused, or you confused?”
“I’m not confused. The words being used to describe it derive from what the media is calling this. [The president] has been clear it is ‘extreme vetting.’”
Throughout the press conference, Spicer insisted that Trump’s words and his meaning were “very clear,” and he clung to the idea that Trump’s executive order amounted to “extreme vetting” of certain people, not a ban.
“I think the president talked about extreme vetting and the need to keep America safe, and he made clear this is not a Muslim ban,” Spicer said. “And it’s not a travel ban. It’s a vetting system to keep America safe. That’s it, plain and simple. And all of the facts and the reading of it clearly show that that’s what it is.”
But leaders from across the political spectrum, attorneys general in multiple states and civil rights groups all disagree. The executive order is already being challenged in numerous legal venues, and on Monday, the nation’s acting attorney general, Sally Yates, refused to defend it in court.
Trump replaced Yates late on Monday, saying she had “betrayed” the Justice Department.