By Sam Stein
Former President Barack Obama released a statement on Monday expressing solidarity with those protesting his successor’s ban on travelers and refugees entering the United States from certain Muslim-majority countries.
The statement, issued under the name of Obama’s spokesman Kevin Lewis, was the first time that Obama has weighed in on Donald Trump’s presidency. And though it did not mention Trump by name or directly criticize the executive order that he signed on Friday, the implication was one of disapproval.
“President Obama is heartened by the level of engagement taking place in communities around the country,” Lewis said. “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.”
Obama studiously kept his criticism of Trump muted during the transition and pledged to give Trump space after he assumed office. But nine days into the presidency, a host of executive orders have brought protestors to the streets and the nation’s airports. And they’ve compelled Obama to speak out as well.
Part of what may have compelled the former president was Trump’s insistence that the executive order mirrored what the Obama administration did when it stopped refugees from coming into Iraq for six months.
“With regard to comparisons to President Obama’s foreign policy decisions, as we’ve heard before, the President fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion,” said Lewis.
The fact-checkers have sided with Obama on this dispute, noting that Obama was vocally critical of any ban on refugees that prioritized one religion over another, as Trump’s does.
“That’s shameful,” Obama said. “That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”
Asked about Obama’s statement Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer again defended the executive order.
“It is a shame that people were inconvenienced obviously,” he said. “But at the end of the day we are talking about a couple of hours.”