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Trump stands by proposal to ban Muslims from U.S. despite heavy criticism
Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump, speaks during a rally coinciding with Pearl Harbor Day at Patriots Point aboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., Monday, Dec. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Jill Colvin and Bruce Smith, The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, December 8, 2015 9:23AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, December 8, 2015 10:22PM EST
MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. -- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's call to block Muslims from entering the United States is being met with a chorus of near-universal condemnation from across the country and around the globe.
From the halls of Congress to 10 Downing Street, Trump's statement Monday advocating a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" was blasted as bigoted, unconstitutional and potentially dangerous for American interests abroad.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, breaking the custom of British leaders not commenting on U.S. presidential contenders, slammed it as "divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong." U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced "any kind of rhetoric that relies on Islamophobia, xenophobia, any other appeal to hate any groups." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement in support of religious freedom.
Even Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling weighed in, decrying Trump on Twitter as worse than her fictional villain Lord Voldemort.
"This is not conservatism," Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters after a closed-door GOP caucus meeting. "What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for, and more importantly it's not what this country stands for."
Trump's campaign has been marked by a pattern of inflammatory statements, dating back to rhetoric that some Mexican immigrants, who entered the country illegally, are drug smugglers and rapists -- but even that didn't evoke the same widespread level of contempt.
The billionaire businessman and former reality television star has maintained his lead in early opinion surveys, despite the controversies, vexing his Republican rivals and alarming a GOP establishment in panic over the damage they fear he's doing to a deeply divided party.
Trump, who appears to revel in the attention, didn't back down from his proposal Tuesday, saying that banning Muslims "until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on" is warranted after last month's attacks by Muslim extremists in Paris and last week's shootings in San Bernardino, California.
"Somebody in this country has to say what's right," Trump said in an interview with ABC taped Tuesday. "It's short-term. Let our country get its act together."
Trump's proposed ban would apply to immigrants and visitors alike, a sweeping prohibition affecting adherents of a religion practiced by more than a billion people worldwide. Trump clarified in a round of television interviews Tuesday that his proposed ban would not apply to American citizens travelling abroad and would allow exemptions for certain people, including the leaders of Middle Eastern countries and athletes for certain sporting events.
However, not specified in his list of exemptions, for example, are Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai and the four civil society groups that led Tunisia's transition to democracy -- all Muslim Nobel Peace Prize winners.
Since the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds, some other Republican presidential contenders have proposed restrictions on refugees and tighter surveillance in the U.S. But Trump's proposal goes far further, prompting a new round of criticism.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said Trump's rhetoric risked inflaming tensions in the Middle East, playing into the recruiting strategy of Islamic State militants, who have framed their battle as a war between Islam and the West.
"He's putting our soldiers and diplomats at risk, he's empowering the enemy," said Graham, another GOP presidential contender, in an interview with CNN. Trump, he said, is making new enemies of people "who came to our side in Iraq and Afghanistan and who are under siege in their own countries."
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another Trump rival, suggested Trump's comments were helping violent extremists gain strength.
"They want us to marginalize Muslims so that they move in their direction, rather than in ours," he said.
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton also said Trump was playing into jihadists' hands, but she had harsh words for his Republican rivals as well. "The truth is many of them have also said extreme things about Muslims," she said at a campaign rally Tuesday in New Hampshire. "Their language may be more veiled than Trump's but their ideas are not so different."
Trump rejected the criticism and accused his opponents of trying to use the issue to boost their campaigns.
"I'm the worst thing that's ever happened to ISIS. The people in my party fully understand that," he said on ABC. "They get it. They're trying to get publicity for themselves."
At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest lambasted Trump as a "carnival barker" and called on his rivals to denounce their fellow candidate.
"What he said is disqualifying," Earnest said. "Any Republican who's too fearful of the Republican base to admit it has no business serving as president, either."
- Colvin reported from Newark, New Jersey. Associated Press writers Mark Sherman, Laurie Kellman, Josh Lederman and Alan Fram in Washington, Bill Barrow in South Carolina, Thomas Beaumont and Kathleen Ronayne in New Hampshire and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.