August 14, 2017 12:06PM

A Dozen Times Trump Equated his Travel Ban with a Muslim Ban

Last week, the Trump administration filed its merits brief in the Supreme Court case over his executive order suspending all travel and immigration from six African and Middle Eastern countries. On Twitter, President Trump has been insistent that the executive order is a “travel ban,” not some “politically correct term.” The statement shows that, while he is often difficult to understand, the president is actually very interested in how he brands his proposal. This fact matters because the constitutional case against the ban depends, in part, on Trump’s statements about it—specifically, the fact that he has repeatedly equated his current policy with his original proposal for a “Muslim ban.”

Beyond the lawsuit, however, it matters why the president has chosen to carry out certain proposals. If the president believes his travel ban will improve security by reducing Muslim immigration, then this is an important consideration for voters or anyone interested in influencing his policies in the future.

Trump’s Statements Equating the Muslim and Travel Bans

I reviewed the president’s comments about the ban—a list of which you can find below with fuller context—and found at least 12 statements where Donald Trump equated his plan to suspend immigration from certain countries with his original plan to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. I say at least because I have not watched all of his many rallies and have no access to his private correspondence. On another occasion, when asked after the election whether his plans to ban Muslims had changed, he reiterated that his plans on that subject were known. These dozen cases collectively demonstrate that President Trump understood his travel ban as a version of his Muslim ban.

Trump’s 12 statements occurred over a period of seven months from May 2016 to December 2016. They include nine separate situations and six direct denials to direct questions about whether the travel ban had changed his plans to ban Muslims. These statements occurred in various contexts, including private phone calls, written speeches, improvised speeches, interviews, and a debate. During this time, he described the travel ban as an “expansion” of the Muslim ban, a “bigger” version of the Muslim ban, and a “morphed” version of the Muslim ban.

Moreover, in these statements, President Trump explained exactly why his method of carrying out the ban changed. He specifically cited two reasons: the negative reaction to the outright Muslim ban and the constitutional concerns that others had expressed. However, he stated that for his part, he believed that the “Constitution does not give us the right to commit suicide,” a phrase used to express that although it may violate the Constitution, we should permit the violation to avoid a collapse of the entire society. Nonetheless, he said he was willing to acquiesce to others’ concerns.

The Evolution of the Ban

This list reveals the concept’s evolution. After defending the outright Muslim ban for six months, Trump called Rudy Giuliani in early May 2016 [1] to, as Trump himself put it, “look at the Muslim ban.” Giuliani explained that Trump told him, “Show me the right way to do it legally.” This indicates that Trump wanted Giuliani to come up with a version of the Muslim ban that would satisfy legal concerns. (Note that at this point, there is no other proposal for the “it” to be, Trump confirmed that he used the phrase “Muslim ban,” and grammatically, the antecedent to “it” is “Muslim ban” in Giuliani’s comments.) With these marching orders, Giuliani and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul—with help from former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Rep. Peter King—then sent a memo to the Trump team that explained why the outright ban could be unconstitutional and urged the adoption of a territorial-based ban.

No matter what these men thought about banning Muslims, Trump clearly saw this change as a reform to, not a rejection of, his Muslim ban. In June 2016, Trump detailed this new plan for the first time publicly [2]. He claimed that he was right to call for “a ban after San Bernardino” in December 2015—i.e. the Muslim ban—and that immigration laws give him the power to “suspend entry into the country of any class of persons that the President deems detrimental” and that he would use this power to “suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism… until we understand these threats.”

Thus, the very first time he brought up the idea, the president both tied the two bans together and detailed—in a rare prepared, written speech—the exact legal strategy that he has used to implement them. Incredibly, the administration's brief in the Supreme Court case actually cites this speech as proving that he did not want to ban Muslims. In a speech [3] and an interview [4] afterward, Trump explained that the “Muslim ban” or “temporary ban”—as he said he preferred to call the Muslim ban—would now apply to “in particular the terrorist states.”

It's worth mentioning that this new territorial version of the Muslim ban actually resolves an important practical consideration that people, including Michael Mukasey, who was part of the Giuliani committee, had raised with Trump about the outright Muslim ban: it’s impossible to enforce a belief-based ban. Trump had previously claimed that the ban would only apply to those who responded “yes” to the question, “Are you a Muslim?” This is obviously a practical absurdity, but a ban on certain nationalities would be easy to enforce.

In a series of interviews on CBS [5][6], NBC [7][8], and Fox [9] that followed, he repeatedly denied that the territorial ban was a rejection of the Muslim ban in response to five direct questions, while insisting that his plans would now focus on “territory, not religion.” But he emphasized that he considered this “not a rollback,” but an “expansion” of the original Muslim ban [8] or a “bigger” version of the Muslim ban [9]. It was during this time that the president’s advisors drafted the executive order itself.

Then in another prepared speech in August, Trump explained that he would implement the new ban as part of “extreme vetting” where he would suspend entries from certain countries until he created a new vetting system for Muslims to screen out those “who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law.” During the presidential debate [10], when the moderator asked whether he had changed his position on the Muslim ban, he denied it again, saying that the “Muslim ban is something that in some form has morphed into extreme vetting for certain areas of the world.” She asked him again whether the “Muslim ban” still stands, and again, he flatly declared, “It is called extreme vetting” [11]. He continues to use this phrase “extreme vetting” to describe his Executive Order.

After the election, he reiterated his plan to suspend immigration from certain countries on “Day 1.” In December 2016 [12] a reporter directly asked him whether he had rethought his plan to “ban Muslim immigration” —yet again giving him the opportunity to say “yes, that plan is irrelevant to my current plans”—but instead, he said, “You know my plans all along. I’ve proven right.” His plans “all along” have been a Muslim ban with revisions to how it would be enforced. I could find no statement during this period where he denied that the travel ban was a version of the Muslim ban.

The Benefit of the Doubt

While some people may find ambiguity in one or two of these statements, their collective force matters more than any individual statement. Trump clearly wanted people to understand the travel ban as a version of the Muslim ban. Although Trump often shoots from the hip, he has carefully guarded the branding of the Muslim ban from the beginning. He’s made many other statements telling journalists how to frame this issue as well, as his Twitter comments show.

While Trump has since said that the travel ban is “not about religion—it’s about terror,” Trump repeatedly said the exact same thing about his outright Muslim ban, saying “it’s not about religion. It’s about security.” This means that to Trump, even a ban of an entire religion is not actually a ban about that religion. There is no doubt that the president believes that his travel ban would actually improve security. The question is whether he believes it for the same reason that he believed his Muslim ban would improve security—that it would lead to fewer Muslims entering the United States. His earlier statements directly indicate that this is the reason.

If Americans are to ignore the 12 statements, the president’s comments about Muslims in other contexts should provide some obvious evidence for the belief that he would not actually have favored a ban on Muslims (even if he said he did). But the evidence is almost entirely the other way. Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that his fears of Muslims lead him to believe even the most outlandish lies about them and suggest policies that specifically target them as a group.

In defense of the ban, Trump stated, “I think Islam hates us.” He repeatedly praised the idea of murdering Muslim prisoners of war with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood purely because it would be scary to other Muslims. He repeatedly and falsely claimed that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in the United States cheered on 9/11. He said that the U.S. government should “shut down” mosques.

Even after his switch to the “territory ban,” he described Muslim immigration as “suicide” for the United States on at least two occasions. He called for indiscriminate surveillance of U.S. mosques and ethnic profiling of Muslims based on their religion. Without evidence, he described Muslim refugees to the United States as “people who believe that women should be enslaved and gays put to death.” He falsely said that Muslim assimilation is virtually nonexistent. He repeated the false claim about Muslims dancing on 9/11 even after it was debunked. He incorrectly said “the Muslim community” does not report terrorists. He falsely said that the wife of a speaker at the DNC Convention may have not been “allowed to speak” by her husband simply because they were Muslims.

On numerous occasions, Trump repeated a falsehood about howmany people” in the “Muslim communityrefused to turn in the San Bernardino shooters despite seeing “bombs all over their floor.” He has used this point constantly to defend the Muslim ban, travel ban, and extreme vetting, including during a presidential debate. Yet in fact, it was a non-Muslim man working in the area who witnessed the delivery of “numerous packages” and was suspicious but didn’t say anything.

The fact is that there is every reason to believe that Trump wanted to morph the Muslim ban into the travel ban to avoid potential legal problems and no reason not to.


The initial quotes about the outright Muslim ban provide context about how Trump discussed that ban. Note that Trump has said he preferred to use the phrase “temporary ban” to refer to the Muslim ban.

Statements on the Outright Muslim Ban

December 7, 2015: In a statement shortly after the San Bernardino terrorist attack:

Donald J. Trump is 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. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population. . . . Mr. Trump stated, "Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life. If I win the election for President, we are going to Make America Great Again."

December 8, 2015: On MSNBC:

Geist: Donald, a customs agent would then ask a person their religion?

Trump: That would be probably—they would say, “Are you Muslim?”

Geist: And if they said, “Yes,” they would not be allowed in the country?

Trump: That’s correct.

December 12, 2015: On Fox News:

It’s a temporary ban, not on everyone, but on many. . . . We're not insulting. This is about security. It's not about religion. This is about security. We can't allow people to come into this country that have horrible thoughts in their mind.

March 9, 2016: On CNN:

I think Islam hates us. There is something -- there is something there that is a tremendous hatred there. There's a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it. There's an unbelievable hatred of us. . . . we can't allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States and of people who are not Muslim.

May 11, 2016: On Fox News Radio (at 7:30):

We have a serious problem, it's a temporary ban, it hasn't been called for yet, nobody's done it, this is just a suggestion until we find out what's going on.

The Twelve Instances of Trump Equating the Muslim Ban and the Travel Ban

[1] 1May 11, 2016: On Fox News:

I’m looking at it very strongly with Rudy Giuliani heading it. I’ve spoken to him a little while ago. We’re going to put together a group of five or six people. Very, very highly thought of people, and I think Rudy will head it up, and we’ll look at the Muslim ban or the ‘temporary ban’ as we call it . . . He will head it up and he’s agreed to do so.

January 29, 2017: On Fox News:

Jeanine Pirro: I want to ask you about this ban [the territory ban Executive Order] and the protests. Does the ban [the territory ban] have anything to do with religion? How did the president decide the seven countries? I understand the permanent ban on the refugees. Talk to me.

Rudy Giuliani: I will tell you the whole history of it [the Executive Order]. When he first announced it [the Executive Order], he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it [the Muslim ban] legally.’ I put a commission together with Judge Mukasey, with Congressman McCaul, [Congressman] Pete King, whole group of other very expert lawyers on this. And what we did was, we focused on, instead of religion, danger—the areas of the world that create danger for us, which is factual basis, not a religious basis. Perfectly legal.

[2] 2June 13, 2016: In a speech:

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. 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. The immigration laws of the United States give the President the power to suspend entry into the country of any class of persons that the President deems detrimental to the interests or security of the United States, as he deems appropriate. I will use this power to protect the American people. When I am elected, I will suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we understand how to end these threats.

[3] 3June 15, 2016: In a speech:

We have to stop on a temporary basis at least, but we have to stop people from pouring into this country until we find out what the hell is going on. . . . We don’t want to have these problems, and we’ve already got ’em. Look at this weekend. We don’t want to have these problems. So what I’m saying is it’s a temporary ban, in particular for certain people coming from certain horrible—where you have tremendous terrorism in the world. You know what those places are. But we have to put a stop to it. We have to put a stop to it until such time as we can figure out what is going on.

[4] 4. June 27, 2016: In an NBC phone interview:

Trump said his Muslim ban would apply "in particular [to] the terrorist states."

[5] 5, 6July 17, 2016: On CBS (at 13:52),

Lesley Stahl: In December, [Mike Pence tweeted], "Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional."

Trump: So you call it territories. OK? We're gonna do territories. We're gonna not let people come in from Syria that nobody knows who they are. Hillary Clinton wants 550 percent more people to come in than Obama who doesn't know what he's—

[6]Stahl: So you're changing your position.

Trump: No. Call it whatever you want. We'll call it territories, OK?

Stahl: So not Muslims?

Trump: You know, the Constitution, there's nothing like it. But it doesn't necessarily give us the right to commit suicide, as a country, OK? And I'll tell you this. Call it whatever you want, change territories, but there are territories and terror states and terror nations that we're not gonna allow the people to come into our country. And we're gonna have a thing called "Extreme vetting." And if people wanna come in, there's gonna be extreme vetting. We're gonna have extreme vetting. They're gonna come in and we're gonna know where they came from and who they are.

[7] 7, 8July 24, 2016: On NBC:

Chuck Todd: The Muslim ban. I think you've pulled back from it, but you tell me. You said, “Lastly and very importantly,” this is from your speech on Thursday night, “we must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place.” This feels like a slight rollback.

Trump: I don’t think it’s a rollback

[8] Todd: Should it be interpreted as that?

Todd: I don’t think so. I actually don’t think it’s a rollback. In fact, you could say it’s an expansion. I’m looking now at territories. People were so upset when I used the word Muslim. Oh, you can’t use the word Muslim. Remember this. And I’m okay with that, because I’m talking territory instead of Muslim. But just remember this: Our Constitution is great. But it doesn’t necessarily give us the right to commit suicide, okay? Now, we have a religious, you know, everybody wants to be protected. And that’s great. And that’s the wonderful part of our Constitution. I view it differently. Why are we committing suicide? Why are we doing that? But you know what? I live with our Constitution. I love our Constitution. I cherish our Constitution. We’re making it territorial. We have nations and we’ll come out, I’m going to be coming out over the next few weeks with a number of the places.

[9] 9On July 25, 2016: On Fox News

Hannity: What is your position? Because you were trying to explain yesterday [on NBC] that your position has not changed that you either vet them or they can’t get in.

Trump: No. I think my position’s gotten bigger now. I’m talking about territories now. People don’t want me to say Muslim. I guess I prefer not saying it, frankly, myself. So we’re talking about territories.

[10] 10, 11August 15, 2016: In a speech:

I call it extreme, extreme vetting. …In addition to screening out all members of the sympathizers of the terrorist groups, we must also screen out any who have hostile attitudes toward our country or its principles or who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law. ...To put these new procedures in place, we will have to temporarily suspend immigration from some of the most dangerous and volatile regions of the world that have a history of exporting terrorism.

On October 9, 2016: In a debate:

Moderator: Your running mate said this week that the Muslim ban is no longer your position, and if it is, was it a mistake to have a religious test?

Trump: …The Muslim ban is something that in some form has morphed into extreme vetting for certain areas of the world.

[11] Moderator: Why did it morph into that? Answer the question. Would you please explain whether the Muslim ban still stands?

Trump: It is called extreme vetting. We are going to areas like Syria.

[12] 12December 21, 2016: In an interview:

Reporter: Have you had cause to rethink or reevaluate your plans to create a Muslim register or ban Muslim immigration to the United States?

Trump: You know my plans all along, and I’ve proven to be right, 100 percent correct.