Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his campaign staff appeared unable to agree on how narrow the ban on Muslims entering the U.S. he proposed Monday should be.
Trump’s camp began to argue Tuesday that the ban only applies to Muslims immigrating to the country. The original press release only mentioned immigration in the title, while the text of the proposal called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S.” It was unclear whether that included U.S. citizens abroad. Some campaign staffers’ comments to the media also contradicted Trump’s remarks, further muddying the waters as to exactly which Muslims he would bar from entering the country.
Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren interviewed Trump hours after the proposal dropped Monday night. Her questioning prompted the real estate mogul to tack an exception onto his proposal for Muslims serving in America’s all-volunteer armed forces overseas.
“They’ll come home. And we have to be vigilant. And we have to take care of the Muslims that are living here, but we have to be vigilant,” Trump replied, before pivoting into a critique of the “political correctness” surrounding the two shooters in San Bernardino, California.
The billionaire also suggested for the first time that his proposal did not cover Muslims already living in the U.S.
“This does not apply to people living in the country, except that we have to be vigilant,” he told Fox News. Trump did not elaborate on what being “vigilant” would entail.
Those comments conflicted with what Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks told The Hill earlier Monday when asked whether the ban applied to Muslim-Americans traveling abroad: “Mr. Trump says, ‘Everyone.’”
By Tuesday morning, Trump was in an all-out media blitz to support the proposal, which he said received the support of “thousands and thousands of calls.” He called into four major morning shows, starting with an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“I’m calling very simply for a shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, and here’s a key, until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” Trump said, as though he was reading from the initial press release.
When ABC’s George Stephanopoulos pressed him for details, Trump conceded that Muslims who are U.S. citizens would be allowed back in.
“If a person is a Muslim and goes overseas and comes back, they can come back,” he said. “They’re a citizen. That’s different.”
Katrina Pierson, another Trump campaign spokeswoman, further walked back the severity of the proposed plan Tuesday on MSNBC. Pierson accused the media of ignoring that the initial press release’s title— “Preventing Muslim Immigration”—and argued that both Trump and the other campaign spokeswoman were right.
“So both Donald Trump and my colleague were correct. It applies to everyone who is immigrating,” Pierson said. “The last time I checked, U.S. citizens and military serving overseas don’t come back home through immigration.”
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that Trump’s exception list kept growing to include Muslim athletes who are competing in the U.S. and Muslim leaders of foreign countries.
When asked about how the proposal would affect his relationships with global leaders (such as the United Arab Emirates) if he were President, Trump flatly dismissed that criticism.
“I think I’ll get along great with them. I’ve always been a unifier,” Trump told MSNBC on Tuesday.