White House spokesman Sean Spicer insisted Wednesday that President Donald Trump's divisive travel restrictions have always been about specific countries rather than religion, despite Trump's earlier calls to temporarily stop Muslims from entering the United States.
At his daily press briefing, Spicer was asked if Trump regrets calling for a temporary "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." An appeals court cited his campaign rhetoric about the religion when it upheld a suspension of his order, which restricted travel from seven Muslim-majority countries the administration said posed a high risk for terrorism.
Spicer defended the legality of the order, saying the White House plans to keep fighting for the first order in the court system while it works on another measure that will better stand up to legal scrutiny. He was then asked again why Trump "decided to back down" from his earlier call to bar Muslims, not people from specific countries, from entering the U.S.
"I think he's made it very clear from the beginning that this was a country-focused issue, a safety focused issue ... I don't see anything other than that," Spicer told reporters.
That contradicts Trump's earliest statements calling for travel restrictions in response to terrorism concerns.
Trump in December 2015 called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." As the campaign progressed, though, he backtracked from rhetoric about Muslims specifically, instead calling for "extreme vetting" from specific countries.
The Trump administration has repeatedly said it chose the countries based on a list compiled during the Obama administration.
Still, Trump's aides did not do him any favors. Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani said last month that Trump wanted a "Muslim ban" and asked for "the right way to do it legally."