Wall Street Journal
By Colleen McCain Nelson
December 16, 2015
After Donald Trump called for a total shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S., President Barack Obama urged Americans to remember that their freedom is bound up with the freedom of others, regardless of what faith they practice.
Less than a week later, senior White House officials met with American Muslim and Sikh leaders. And on Tuesday, the president told 31 newly naturalized U.S. citizens that “immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America.”
On each occasion, White House officials said Mr. Obama was simply voicing long-held beliefs.
“It’s not as if the president went out of his way to describe these values,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said after Mr. Obama spoke Tuesday at a naturalization ceremony. “These are the kinds of things the president has long fought for.”
But whether coincidence or coordinated effort, the cumulative effect has been a not-so-subtle condemnation of Mr. Trump and other Republican presidential candidates who have opposed allowing Syrian refugees to resettle in the U.S. or who have suggested that only Christian refugees should be accepted.
Throughout this presidential campaign, White House officials have deflected a steady stream of questions about the GOP candidates’ views and declarations. The president won’t be weighing in on every utterance from the campaign trail, they say.
But Mr. Trump’s call to block Muslims from coming to the U.S. has sparked a sharp and sustained response from the president himself, even though Mr. Obama never mentions the businessman and Republican front-runner by name.
The presidential pushback started with Mr. Obama’s speech last week marking the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. He hailed those who had fought discrimination in the past and urged today’s Americans to rise above fear and to keep in mind “the freedom of others – regardless of what they look like or where they come from or what their last name is or what faith they practice.”
The president’s call for Americans to “push back against bigotry in all its forms” provided a stark contrast between Mr. Obama and the GOP presidential candidates, said Mr. Earnest, the White House spokesman. “But I would contest the notion that this is something that the president newly inserted into his remarks to respond to one individual,” he said.
When a few of the president’s top advisers met with Muslim-American and Sikh leaders Monday and convened an interfaith conference call, Mr. Earnest said at least one of the meetings had been scheduled previously, but he noted that combating religious discrimination was a “timely topic of conversation.”
Despite intense criticism from Democrats and even some Republicans, Mr. Trump has stood by his proposal to block Muslims from the U.S., saying in Tuesday night’s GOP debate that this is a matter of security, not religion.
The president’s most emphatic counter to Mr. Trump’s plan came Tuesday, when he spoke to a group of new Americans. Mr. Obama said “immigration is our origin story,” but that this country sometimes has succumbed to fear, citing Japanese internment during World War II.
“How quickly we forget. One generation passes, two [generations pass], and suddenly we don’t remember where we came from,” Mr. Obama said. “And we suggest that somehow there is ‘us’ and there is ‘them,’ not remembering we used to be ‘them.’ On days like today, we need to resolve never to repeat mistakes like that again.”
The president never spoke the words “Donald Trump.” But the message was clear.
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