Obama carefully weighs in on refugees ban

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BY MICHAEL A. MEMOLI
TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – Former President Barack Obama has offered his first public comment on the conduct of his successor, saying through a spokesman that he is “heartened” by public demonstrations against the Trump administration’s controversial move to temporarily ban refugees and block all admissions from seven countries.

Donald Trump and Barack Obama arrive for Trump’s inauguration ceremony at the Capitol on Jan. 20 in Washington, D.C.
(J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/SIPA USA/TNS)

“President Obama is heartened by the level of engagement taking place in communities around the country,” Kevin Lewis, a spokesman for the former president, said in a statement emailed to reporters Monday.

“In his final official speech as president, he spoke about the important role of citizen and how all Americans have a responsibility to be the guardians of our democracy — not just during an election but every day.

Citizens exercising their constitutional right to assemble, organize and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake.”

7 nations targeted
Lewis also said in the statement that Obama “fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion.”

Trump aides deny that his executive order, released on Jan. 27, involves religious discrimination. The order temporarily blocked travel to the U.S. by residents of seven predominantly Muslim nations, but left many of the Islamic world’s largest population centers unaffected, they note.

The order also included an exception for believers of “minority religions” in those countries, a provision Trump explicitly said would help Christians.

Obama’s statement is notable less for its content than for the fact that it was issued at all. It reflected the delicate balance he feels he must strike between showing a degree of deference to the new president and speaking out on issues he sees as critically important.

The statement tiptoed around the content of the order, focusing more on the former president’s interest in citizen engagement.

‘Shameful’ test
Obama said before leaving office that he expected to choose carefully when to comment on the actions of his successor and would focus less on “normal functioning of politics” and more on “certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake,” as he put it in his final news conference.

Monday’s statement did point, though, to comments Obama made at a news conference in November 2015, when he called the idea of a religious test for immigration policy “shameful” and “not American.”

“We don’t have religious tests to our compassion,” he said at the time.

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