Former President George W. Bush made veiled criticisms of President Donald Trump’s immigration policy Monday, saying that religious freedom was a one of America’s fundamental strengths, and that those who kill innocent people aren’t truly religious.
In an interview with Bush, NBC’s Matt Lauer referenced an address to a joint session of Congress on Sep. 20, 2001, in which Bush told Muslims around the world: “We respect your faith.”
“Do you think the President’s position on this [Muslim ban] has been well thought out?” Lauer asked.
“I think it’s very important for all of us to recognize one of our great strengths is for people to be able to worship the way they want to, or not worship at all,” Bush replied. “The bedrock of our freedom – a bedrock of our freedom – is the right to worship freely. I understood right off the bat, Matt, that this was an ideological conflict, and people who murder the innocent are not religions people. They want to advance an ideology, and we have faced those kinds of ideologues in the past.”
Lauer asked more directly whether banning travel and immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries would make fighting a war on terrorism easier or more difficult.
“I think it’s very hard to fight the war on terrorism if we’re in retreat,” Bush said. “And I think we learned that lesson, that if the United States decides to pull out before a free society emerges, it’s going to be hard to defeat them. The enemy is very good about exploiting weakness. It’s going to be very important – if that’s the goal, to defeat ISIS, which I believe it should be – that we project strength. Now whether or not the domestic politics helps them or not, I – ”
Lauer asked again, directly, if Bush supported Trump’s immigration executive order.
“I am for an immigration policy that’s welcoming and that upholds the law,” he said.
Watch the exchange here. The discussion of Trump’s immigration executive order begins at 3:45.