Republicans unify against Trump’s Muslim ban, but split over him

Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, answers a question from a member of the news media during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015.
Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, answers a question from a member of the news media during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. AP

Republicans on Tuesday rejected Donald Trump’s bid to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, but not all sought to distance themselves entirely from the Republican presidential front-runner.

Almost universally, Republicans said they disagreed with Trump’s blanket proposal. But with Trump displaying unprecedented staying power amid the polls despite frequent provocations, most of them stepped gingerly.

The dust-up comes against the backdrop of a possibly tightening race for the GOP nomination in Iowa, the state that kicks off the voting with precinct caucuses in less than eight weeks. One new poll Monday, from Monmouth University, showed Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pulling ahead of Trump in Iowa.

Cruz, who has steadily refused to criticize Trump as he courts the businessman’s army of outraged voters, reinforced that approach Tuesday.

Cruz said he disagreed with Trump’s approach but saluted him for taking a stand.

“I commend Donald Trump for standing up and focusing America’s attention on the need to secure our borders,” Cruz said, declining to criticize Trump’s proposal other than to say it was “not the right solution.”

Cruz made the remarks as he promoted a measure that would bar resettlement for three years of refugees in the U.S. from Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen and any territories controlled by terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State or al Qaida.

Cruz, who along with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has been active legislatively in trying to stem the flow of Syrian refugees into the U.S., is also seeking legislation that would give governors the option of rejecting a refugee if the governor thinks the federal government has failed “to provide adequate assurances that the alien does not present a security risk to the state.”

In September, Cruz introduced a Senate bill that would strip U.S. citizenship from those who fight for or provide support to terrorist groups working to attack the United States.

By 10-89, the Senate last week rejected Paul’s bill that would have put a hold on issuing visas, pending tough background checks, to citizens of more than 30 countries that he said “were at high risk for exporting terrorists.”

Paul’s measure also would have implemented a 30-day waiting period for visas for visitors from countries that are part of the U.S.’s visa waiver program. That would have included U.S. allies such as France.

Paul told New Hampshire Today radio that although he thought it was a “mistake to base immigration or moratoriums based on religion,” he had called for a moratorium based on risk.

“We’ve examined where the high risk comes from, and it’s about 34 countries,” he said. “It is a good idea to put a pause on immigration because we don’t have a good handle on who’s here now; we don’t have a good handle on who’s entering the country and whether they’re obeying our laws.”

Other Republicans – particularly those polling well below him – hotly decried Trump’s words but also stopped short of denouncing the front-runner’s candidacy. House Speaker Paul Ryan criticized Trump’s proposal, saying it was “not who we are as a party,” but he didn’t say he wouldn’t support Trump if he were the party’s presidential nominee.

“I’m going to support whoever the Republican nominee is,” Ryan said.

Some have also have raised worries over Muslims as President Barack Obama urges the U.S. to accept at least 10,000 Syrians seeking refuge from the war in their country.

Jeb Bush, who said Trump was “unhinged,” had earlier suggested Christian refugees should get preference. Ben Carson, who said Tuesday that “we do not and would not advocate being selective on one’s religion,” earlier questioned whether a Muslim should serve as president.

I don’t agree. We need to aggressively take on radical Islamic terrorism but not at the expense of our American values.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus

Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News, which serves one of the nation’s largest Arab communities, in Dearborn, Mich., said he was pleased to hear Ryan and most of the Republican presidential candidates condemn Trump’s comments. But Siblani, who endorsed George W. Bush in 2000, said he was disappointed that the Republican Party leadership had not gone further.

“The problem I have is the people who cheer him and that he’s still No. 1 in the polls, and also the Republican Party not saying anything about what’s going on,” Siblani said. “This is Lincoln’s party, Reagan’s party, that’s going so far to the right that it will be kissing Hitler.”

Establishment Republicans have been alarmed by Trump’s hold on the electorate but wary of taking him on and prompting him to run as an independent, or angering his base of devoted supporters.

Walter Jensen, 59, the mayor of Humboldt, Iowa, and a Trump supporter, said he’d cringed when he’d heard Trump’s remarks but that it hadn’t affected his support – or his friends’ support – for Trump.

“He says what we all feel but don’t say out loud,” Jensen said. “Until we get a handle on what’s going on, we shouldn’t have more immigrants brought in. We don’t know who our neighbors are anymore.”

I'm talking about a temporary situation until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on. We have to figure it out.

Donald Trump

A Public Religion Research Institute study found that 80 percent of Trump’s supporters viewed immigrants as a burden to the U.S. And nearly three-quarters of Trump supporters said it bothered them when they came into contact with immigrants who spoke little or no English, compared with 58 percent for those supporting other Republican hopefuls.

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark

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