WASHINGTON (AP) — Top Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson are ratcheting up their rhetoric about Muslims, with Trump calling for a mandatory database to track Muslims in the United States and Carson comparing Syrian refugees to rabid dogs.
The comments follow the terror attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the carnage, elevating fears of attacks in the U.S. and prompting calls for new restrictions on refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was the first Republican rival to condemn Trump’s call for a Muslim database, calling the proposal “abhorrent.”
“You’re talking about internment, you’re talking about closing mosques, you’re talking about registering people, and that’s just wrong,” Bush said Friday on CNBC.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton took to Twitter Friday and challenged all Republican candidates to disavow Trump’s comments.
“This is shocking rhetoric,” she wrote. “It should be denounced by all seeking to lead this country.”
Trump’s comments about a national database for Muslims came Thursday night while he was campaigning in Iowa. In a video posted on MSNBC.com, Trump was asked whether Muslims would be required to register. He replied, “They have to be.”
He said Muslims would be signed up at “different places” and said the program would be “all about management.”
Religious and civil liberties experts said Trump’s idea is unconstitutional on several counts.
“Individuals cannot be singled out for government surveillance and monitoring based on their religious beliefs,” said Steven Shapiro, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Marci Hamilton, a Yeshiva University legal expert on religious liberty, said requiring Muslims to register appears to be a clear violation of the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom.
“What the First Amendment does and what it should do is drive the government to use neutral criteria,” Hamilton said. “You can use neutral criteria to identify terrorists. What it can’t do is engage in one-religion bashing. That won’t fly in any court.”
The campaign trail comments come amid a debate on Capitol Hill about refugees from the Middle East. The House passed legislation Thursday essentially barring Syrian and Iraqi refugees from the U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has slotted the bill for possible Senate consideration, though it’s unclear whether the chamber could get enough votes to override a veto by Obama, who opposes the measure.
Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who has challenged Trump’s standing atop the GOP field, raised eyebrows Thursday when he compared blocking potential terrorists posing as Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. to handling a rabid dog.
“If there’s a rabid dog running around in your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog,” Carson told reporters at a campaign stop in Alabama. “It doesn’t mean you hate all dogs, but you’re putting your intellect into motion.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned both Trump and Carson’s comments as “Islamophobic and unconstitutional.”
“Donald Trump and Ben Carson are contributing to an already toxic environment that may be difficult to correct once their political ambitions have been satisfied,” CAIR’s Robert McCaw said in a statement.
Trump’s comments in particular are expected to force his rivals to weigh in on whether they support or oppose his proposal. Republicans have vacillated in their handling of other inflammatory comments from the bellicose billionaire, wary of alienating the front-runner’s supporters but also increasingly concerned that he’s managed to maintain his grip on the GOP race deep into the fall.
A super PAC supporting Ohio Gov. John Kasich had started running a television advertisement in New Hampshire targeting Trump and Carson’s preparedness for being commander in chief. The ad opens with pictures of Trump, Carson and President Barack Obama as a narrator says, “Job training for president does not work.” The ad then pivots to a review of the national security issues facing the country and argued Kasich is the only candidate with a plan to defeat the Islamic State.
The first reference to a database for Muslims came in Trump’s interview with Yahoo News published earlier Thursday in which the billionaire real estate mogul did not reject the idea of requiring Muslims to register in a database or giving them special identification cards noting their religion.
“We’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump told Yahoo News.
He also suggested he would consider warrantless searches, according to Yahoo, saying, “We’re going to have to do things that we never did before.”
Asked by reporters Thursday night to explain his Yahoo comments, Trump suggested his response had been misconstrued. “I never responded to that question,” he said.
Carson repeated his comparison of Muslim Syria refugees to rabid dogs in a second event Thursday. He said that while “Islam itself is not necessarily our adversary,” Americans are justified in seeing threats from Muslim refugees and the U.S. shouldn’t “completely change who we are as Americans just so we can look like good people.”
He continued: “We have an American culture, and we have things that we base our values and principles on. I, for one, am not willing to give all those things away just so I can be politically correct.”
Colvin reported from Spartanburg, South Carolina. AP writers Bill Barrow in Mobile, Alabama, Steve Peoples in Phoenix and Julie Bykowicz and Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this report.