On today's episode of CBS' "Face the Nation," host Margaret Brennan pressed White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Donald Trump's history of anti-Muslim rhetoric.
The key exchange:
- Brennan: "As a candidate, the President called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States. He said Islam hates us. This kind of language in the past leads to these questions of why isn't the president now directly using that megaphone to condemn it.
- Mulvaney: "Well, then ... take the words and put them in one category and take the actions and put them in another. Something the president doesn't get hardly any credit for or any attention to is the work he's done in defense of religious minorities all around the world up to and including Muslims in the Middle East. ... So I hear what folks say, 'Oh, Donald Trump said this during the campaign.' Look at what we've done while we've been here. I don't think anybody could say that the president is anti-Muslim."
- Brennan: "Well, the president's tweeting now about a TV host who was suspended for anti-Muslim rhetoric. So it's I think a fair question to ask you about this."
Behind the scenes: We often hear this exact line from administration officials as justification for Trump's rhetoric: "Take the words and put them in one category and take the actions and put them in another." A senior European government official told me former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis often used the same line privately with allies to try to assuage their concerns about Trump.
- But Brennan made a painfully obvious point that still bears repeating: Trump's words matter.