Barack Obama's veiled dig at Trump by praising protests

  • 31/01/2017

Former US President Barack Obama has praised protesters who amassed across the country in opposition to President Donald Trump's immigration orders, breaking his silence on political issues for the first time since leaving office.

"The president fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion," Mr Obama's spokesman, Kevin Lewis, said.

In his first statement on behalf of the former president, Mr Lewis said Mr Obama was "heartened" by the amount of engagement taking place in US communities.

"Citizens exercising their constitutional right to assemble, organise and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake," Mr Lewis said.

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

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

Mr 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," Mr Obama said in the aftermath of attacks in Paris that prompted calls for the US to restrict Syrian refugees from entering the United States.

Mr Trump and the White House have vigorously disputed the notion that Mr Trump's order is a "Muslim ban."

Mr Lewis' comments mark the first time Mr Obama has weighed in on Mr Trump's actions since Mr Obama left office on January 20. In his final weeks as president, Mr Obama said he planned to follow George W. Bush's example by giving his successor room to govern without being second-guessed.

Yet Mr Obama pointedly reserved the right to speak out if Mr Trump violated what Mr Obama called basic American values. He suggested a ban on Muslims or a move by Mr Trump to deport immigrants brought to the US illegally as children would cross that threshold.