President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign removed references to a ban on Muslim immigration from its website minutes after the White House was asked to square that with administration denials that it is targeting Muslim immigrants.
The campaign deleted a December 2015 statement from then-candidate Trump that called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.”
The page disappeared shortly after White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked during his daily press briefing whether that language is consistent with administration claims in federal court that Trump’s proposed immigration policies do not target members of a particular religion.
Spicer pleaded ignorance on Trump’s campaign statements still present - until Monday morning, at least - on the reelection effort’s website.
“I’m not aware what’s on the campaign website, you’d have to ask them,” Spicer said. “I know how he talked about this from the first day of the administration … We’ve been very consistent since the first day of the administration on this.”
A separate page on campaign’s website still contains the text of a June 2016 speech in which Trump called for an immigration “ban,” but that speech did not directly propose banning Muslim immigration..
The question of immigrants’ religion is a sticking point in the legal battle over Trump’s immigration order, which was initially authored in January and revised in March after a federal court ruled it was unconstitutional.
The revised order has also faced legal troubles due to the president’s past statements that, a federal judge in Maryland ruled last month, indicate it was designed to explicitly target Muslim immigrants. The judge ordered a temporary halt to the program as it makes its way through the judiciary.
The initial policy barred immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations: Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen. The revised version omitted Iraq, whose leaders had warned that its inclusion on the list would make security cooperation more difficult.
The administration is seeking to move forward with the revised order, and is defending the policy in a separate federal court in Virginia on Monday.
Spicer told reporters that the administration’s position has not changed – that the executive order is a constitutionally sound effort to protect the United States from hostile foreign elements, and that immigrants’ religious views are irrelevant to the policy.
A ban on Muslim immigration was a pillar of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, especially in the wake of domestic terrorist attacks such as the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, which left 49 dead and 53 wounded.
“I called for a ban after San Bernardino, and was met with great scorn and anger but now, many are saying I was right to do so -- and although the pause is temporary, we must find out what is going on,” Trump said in a speech a day after the attack. “The ban will be lifted when we as a nation are in a position to properly and perfectly screen those people coming into our country.”
Though he did not characterize the ban in that speech as aimed specifically at Muslim immigrants, he went on to criticize Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton’s views on the religion’s contribution to terrorism.
“She is in total denial, and her continuing reluctance to ever name the enemy broadcasts weakness across the world,” Trump said.
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to questions about apparent efforts to retroactively avoid naming the enemy.