President Obama and Hillary Clinton conducted an extraordinary joint attack on Donald Trump on Tuesday, with the president accusing the presumptive Republican nominee of “doing the terrorists’ work for them” and Clinton excoriating him as a liar and a “pathological” personality who is temperamentally unsuited to be president.
Their remarks, made at simultaneous speeches in Washington and Pittsburgh, came the day after Trump revived insinuations about Obama’s loyalty to the U.S. and vowed that as president he would ban immigration not only by Muslims but people from any country with a “proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies.”
The harsh exchanges between the two sides, with the election still five months away, underscored the brutal nature of the campaign to come, with its focus on intertwined issues of race, ethnicity, terrorism and immigration.
“Where does this stop?” Obama demanded, noting that the shooter responsible for the killing of 49 people in Orlando was born in the U.S., as were the attackers in several previous terrorists acts. “Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently” than other citizens? he asked. “Are we going to start discriminating against them because of their faith?”
If the U.S. were to go down that path “we would have betrayed the very things we’re trying to protect,” the president said. “And then the terrorists would have won, and we cannot let that happen. I will not let that happen.”
Groups such as Islamic State want to present themselves as the leaders of a “war between Islam and America,” Obama said. “They want us to validate them.” Proposals such as the ones Trump has offered are “doing the terrorists’ work for them,” he said.
Trump, in a statement emailed to the Associated Press, responded that Obama “continues to prioritize our enemy over our allies, and for that matter, the American people.”
“When I am president, it will always be America first,” he wrote.
Later, at a campaign rally in Greensboro, N.C., Trump repeated his insistence on the need to stop Muslim immigration and said that Obama seemed “more angry at me than he was at the shooter.”
”I have many Muslim friends,” Trump said. But “there doesn’t seem to be assimilation” among Muslim immigrants, and “there’s no reporting” by Muslims about their fellow Muslims who may be planning attacks. That charge is not true, according to FBI officials and police in many cities who have cited cooperation they receive from Muslim immigrants.
Clinton made her own blistering assessment of Trump during a campaign rally in Pittsburgh, referring to remarks that Trump had made in television interviews Monday in which he had commented on the mass shooting in Orlando.
“Yesterday morning, just one day after the massacre, he went on TV and suggested President Obama is on the side of the terrorists,” Clinton said. “Just think about that for a second. Even in a time of divided politics, this is way beyond anything that should be said by someone running for president.”
Clinton called on other Republican leaders to disavow the comments, the latest to come from Trump that have put others in the GOP in an awkward spot.
“History will remember what we do in this moment,” Clinton said.
She called Trump’s remarks “shameful” and “disrespectful” and “yet more evidence that he is temperamentally unfit and totally unqualified to be president.”
“We don’t need conspiracy theories and pathological self-congratulations,” Clinton said. “We need leadership.”
The remarks by Trump that Clinton referred to were made in an interview on Fox News, in which he attacked Obama’s decision not to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” in describing jihadist attacks.
Obama “either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind,” Trump said. “There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on,” he said, declining to specify what he was suggesting.
Trump has previously questioned Obama’s Christian faith, referring to him in a Twitter message as “the black Muslim in the White House.”
Clinton tore into Trump’s history as a leader of the “birther” movement, which alleged Obama was not born in the U.S., which he was. She also went after his recent allegation that the judge overseeing the civil case brought against him by former Trump University students is biased because of his Mexican heritage. And she noted that Trump had wrongly declared that the shooter in Orlando had been born in Afghanistan.
“He was born in Queens, N.Y., just like Donald himself,” she said.
Clinton said that after she had “sifted through all the bizarre rants and outright lies” in Trump’s address at a New Hampshire college Monday, his plan boiled down to using the words “radical Islam” to define terrorists and imposing a ban on Muslims and other unspecified groups from entering the country.
“Trump, as usual, is obsessed with name-calling,” she said. “From my perspective it matters what we do, not just what we say. It didn’t matter what we called [Osama] bin Laden. It mattered that we got Bin Laden.”
Trump’s rhetoric on Muslim immigration is among several topics that have put other Republican officials on the defensive. Tuesday, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) repeated his opposition to any blanket ban on Muslim immigration, saying that a religious test was contrary to U.S. interests and inconsistent with the party’s principles.
“This is a war with radical Islam. It is not a war with Islam,” he said in response to a question at a news conference about Trump’s speech Monday.
“Muslims are our partners,” Ryan added. “The vast, vast majority of Muslims in this country and around the world are moderate. They’re peaceful. They’re tolerant. So they’re among our best allies, among our best resources in this fight.”
“It’s hot in here,” he said.
White House officials weren’t ready to let the question slide, however. Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that the president was holding other Republicans responsible for what he sees as their own intolerant statements as well as their refusal to reject what Trump says.
“Many Republicans have been making exactly the case that the president has expressed concerns about,” Earnest said. “It was [former] Gov. [Jeb] Bush who initially advocated for a religious test on individuals who are in the country. It was Sen. [Ted] Cruz who made the reference to enhanced surveillance of Muslim communities. It is Chris Christie who expressed concerns about admitting Syrian refugees to the United States.”
“This is not, unfortunately, just about one politician in the Republican Party who is reacting out of fear and using language that the president is concerned could undermine our homeland security,” Earnest said.
Republican leaders countered that Obama is the one undermining security.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus blamed Obama’s “hasty and politically driven withdrawal from Iraq” for creating a vacuum that allowed the rise of Islamic State in the first place. He also suggested that Obama and Clinton had talked about gun regulation in the aftermath of the shooting in order to avoid discussing terrorism.
“Democrats want to talk about anything else,” he said, “because they have lost the national security debate.”
Parsons reported from Washington and Halper from Pittsburgh. Times staff writer Michael A. Memoli in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow @cparsons for news about the White House.
4:25 p.m.: This article was updated with comments by Donald Trump at a campaign rally.
1:08 p.m.: This article was updated with comment by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Republican SNational Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
The article was originally published at 12:09 p.m.