World

Obama 'heartened' by protests following Trump's travel ban

A spokesman for Barack Obama says the former president "fundamentally disagrees" with discrimination that targets people based on their religion.

Former president has not weighed in on a political issue since leaving office on Jan. 20

Barack Obama speaks during his final presidential news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington on Jan. 18. Obama has said he plans to give President Donald Trump room to govern but would speak out if Trump violates basic U.S. values. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

A spokesman for Barack Obama says the former president "fundamentally disagrees" with discrimination that targets people based on their religion.

The statement alluded to but did not specifically mention President Donald Trump's temporary ban on refugees from several Muslim-majority countries. The White House says the ban isn't a Muslim ban because dozens of Muslim-majority countries aren't affected.

Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis says Obama is "heartened" by the amount of engagement being seen across the country. He's referring to protests against Trump's order on immigration and refugees.

Lewis, a former White House official, pointed out that Obama used his last official speech as president to talk about Americans' responsibility to be "guardians of our democracy," even in non-election years.

"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," Lewis said.

Concern over religious discrimination

Lewis didn't specifically refer to Trump's immigration order. But he rejected comparisons between Trump's recent actions and Obama's foreign policy decisions.

Trump said he took cues from Obama by temporarily banning travel to the U.S. from citizens of seven countries that Obama's administration identified as places of terrorism concern. But Obama's designation related strictly to eligibility to enter the U.S. without a visa; he never considered a travel ban.

"[Obama] fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion," Lewis said.

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington on Saturday. Trump and the White House have vigorously disputed the notion that Trump's order is a 'Muslim ban.' (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Obama's office also circulated excerpts from a speech the former president gave in November 2015, in which he called the idea of a ban on Muslims "shameful."

"That's not American. That's not who we are. We don't have religious tests to our compassion," Obama said in the aftermath of attacks in Paris that prompted calls for the U.S. to restrict Syrian refugees from entering the United States.

Trump and the White House have vigorously disputed the notion that Trump's order is a "Muslim ban." Trump's order halts all refugee admissions for 120 days, suspends the Syrian refugee program indefinitely and also suspends entry to the U.S. from seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days. But the White House has stressed that dozens of other Muslim-majority countries aren't included.

Obama has not weighed in on a political issue since leaving office on Jan. 20. He has said he plans to give Trump room to govern but would speak out if Trump violates basic U.S. values.

now