During his Tuesday press availability, Trump administration Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted that the travel ban implemented by President Trump via executive order last Friday isn’t actually a ban at all.
“It can’t be a ban if you’re letting a million people in,” Spicer said, referring to the fact that Muslims who don’t hail from the seven Muslim-majority countries included in the ban can still travel to the U.S. “If 325,000 people from another country can come in, that is by nature not a ban… that is extreme vetting.”
Spicer’s explanation prompted reporters to refer back a tweet posted by Trump on Monday morning in which he referred to his travel ban as a “ban.” Trump also referred to it as “a very, very strict ban” on Saturday.
If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the "bad" would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad "dudes" out there!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 30, 2017
In fact, in a White House press release distributed Sunday, Spicer himself referred to the ban as “a 90-day ban.”
But during Tuesday’s press availability, Spicer insisted that any confusion over whether or not Trump’s executive order constitutes a ban is the media’s fault.
“He’s using the words the media is using,” Spicer said of Trump’s tweet. “I think the words that are being used to describe it derive from what the media is calling this. [Trump] has been very clear that it is extreme vetting.”
Sean Spicer insists it's not a ban, despite Trump using the word. https://t.co/uP97NFRQVd
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) January 31, 2017
Spicer’s logic is similar to the reasoning White House officials have used in defense of a statement released in Trump’s name on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that generated controversy by omitting any mention of Jews.
With regard to that controversy, Hope Hicks, White House director of strategic communications, told CNN, “Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered.”
Likewise, because non-Muslims from the seven countries included in Trump’s travel ban are banned from entering the U.S. and because Muslims from other countries can still enter the country, Spicer and Trump supporters argue that Trump’s action doesn’t represent a “ban.”
But Trump has been clear about his intentions all along. His December 2015 statement “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on” is still on his website. And during a Fox News appearance on Saturday, Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani said that Trump’s executive order stemmed from a desire to ban Muslims, but to do so with the veneer of legality.
“So when [Trump] first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally,’” Giuliani said. “And what we did was, we focused on, instead of religion, danger — the areas of the world that create danger for us. Which is a factual basis, not a religious basis. Perfectly legal, perfectly sensible. And that’s what the ban is based on. It’s not based on religion. It’s based on places where there are substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country.”
But Giuliani’s comment about “areas of the world that create danger” being the basis for the ban is belied by the facts. As the Wall Street Journal reports, of the 161 people charged with jihadist terrorism-related crimes or who died before being charged since 2001, only 11 were identified as being from the seven countries included in Trump’s executive order — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia.
Tuesday wasn’t the first time Spicer has left reporters dumbfounded during the 11 days Trump’s been in office. During his first appearance before the White House press on January 21, Spicer attacked the media for accurately reporting that Trump’s inauguration was attended by a relatively small crowd, rejecting photographic evidence clearly showing attendance was less than for President Obama’s inauguration in 2009.