CNN White House reporter Michelle Kosinski took the White House to task Tuesday on its hypocrisy and straw-manning of Republicans regarding President Obama's refusal to say "radical Islamic terror."
Spokesman Josh Earnest took the podium after an enraged Obama blasted Republicans for what he characterized as an obsession with the "talking point" of calling the enemy "radical Islam," saying that was their only contribution to the fight against the Islamic State. Obama also denounced Donald Trump, without naming him, for his proposed Muslim immigration ban.
Terrorism is at the forefront again after a Muslim man, who pledged allegiance to ISIS, killed 49 people Sunday in Orlando, the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.
Earnest stayed with Obama's playbook, claiming that Republicans' insistence on calling the threat "radical Islam" is a substitute for taking actions like gun control that Obama feels is necessary to combat extremism.
"Does the president, or you as well, not see a distinction, though, between calling what happens Islam and calling certain acts radical Islamic terror?" Kosinski asked. "I mean, some people would say what's the difference, and if you're getting specific enough to call something radical Islamic terror when it clearly is, why is that such a big deal?"
Earnest replied that Obama had said numerous times that he feared such rhetoric played into the hands of ISIS by designating the conflict as one between Islam and the West. In saying the enemy was not all of Islam, Earnest echoed what House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) said earlier Thursday.
However, he claimed the GOP's only counterterrorism strategy was to say the words "radical Islam."
"Here's the problem, Michelle," Earnest said. "The counterterrorism strategy articulated by Republicans is that the president should utter the magic words to defeat ISIL. That's their strategy, and the president says, let's define our enemy, and let's make sure we define our enemy precisely. Our enemy is not the religion of Islam. Our enemy are radical, violent extremists that seek to pervert Islam and seek to advance a narrative that they are representing Islam in a war against the West. That's false. That's a myth. That's not true.
"So the question really is, why aren't those Republicans in Congress actually focused on things that aren't just magic words, but are a tangible contribution to our homeland security? Let's close the no-buy-no-fly loophole … Let's hire 200 additional ATF officers. Let's pass an AUMF that actually authorizes the commander-in-chief and our men and women in uniform to win this war against ISIL … Time and time and time again they refuse, because they think that somehow the magic words are somehow more important."
Kosinski was quick to respond that the administration seemed to be painting with the "broad brush" it accused Republicans of using.
"Are you sure that anyone sees these magic words as a strategy, though, and they're not just pointing out the fact that the president hasn't wanted to say them for a very long time? Even though others have, including Hillary Clinton?" Kosinski asked. "It just seems like when he talks about people painting this with a very broad brush, it seems maybe as if you're painting this with a broader brush than some of those critics mean from the beginning."
"What other critiques have those critics offered in terms of fighting ISIL?" Earnest shot back. "They haven't. This is the thing that they constantly come back to. I'm not the one who constantly brings up radical Islamic extremism. That's not me."
Sounding more animated, Earnest maintained that using such language helped the enemy by assisting its recruiting efforts.
Kosinski pointed out French president Francois Hollande and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton both have used the expression.
"Are they then undermining values and strategy?" Kosinski asked.
"I haven't heard them criticize the president for not using the magic words, and I think that's the point," Earnest said.
Earnest claimed that Republican political opponents had said that the "only reason" the United States had not defeated ISIS was because of failure to call it radical Islam. He didn't name anyone specifically who had made that statement.