In scathing remarks, Obama hits Trump head-on over radical Islam

President Obama lashed out at Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE on Tuesday, criticizing his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States and his attacks on the White House's handling of the war on terror.

Obama, who appeared visibly angry at times during his remarks, took on criticism from Trump and other Republicans that he has refused to use the phrase "radical Islam," calling it  a "political distraction."

"What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change?” Obama asked.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this?” he continued, using another name for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). "The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction.”

Obama spoke most passionately — and directed pointed comments toward the presumptive GOP presidential nominee — when discussing the efforts to stop terrorism by law enforcement officials at all levels of government. He said those people knew whom they were fighting against regardless of the name. 

“They know full well who the enemy is. So do the intelligence and law enforcement officers who spent countless hours disrupting plots and protecting all Americans, including politicians who tweet and appear on cable news shows,” he said.

Obama spoke after a meeting with his National Security Council at the Treasury Department, where he received an update on the investigation into this weekend's Orlando nightclub shooting. 

Forty-nine people were killed in the attack by Omar Mateen, who pledged allegiance to ISIS and other terrorist groups in separate 911 calls during the assault. 

The shooting provoked some of Trump's harshest criticism of the White House and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMissing piece to the Ukraine puzzle: State Department's overture to Rudy Giuliani On The Money: Trump downplays urgency of China trade talks | Chinese negotiators cut US trip short in new setback | Trump sanctions Iran's national bank | Survey finds Pennsylvania, Wisconsin lost the most factory jobs in past year Meghan McCain, Ana Navarro get heated over whistleblower debate MORE, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. Trump argued the nation needed to tighten immigration laws that let the shooter's parents come to the United States from Afghanistan. Mateen was born in the United States. 

Trump also questioned Obama's commitment to the war on terrorism, even flirting with conspiracy theories that the president might be in league with American enemies. 

Clinton, speaking at about the same time as Obama, took on those comments herself. 

“Yesterday morning, just one day after the massacre, he went on TV and suggested that President Obama is on the side of the terrorists,” Clinton told a crowd at a rally in Pittsburgh.
 
“Even in a time of divided politics, this is way beyond anything that should be said by someone running for President of the United States."

Clinton also echoed Obama’s remarks about terrorism, bashing Trump as "fixated on the words 'radical Islam.' "

"I must say I find this strange. Is Donald Trump suggesting that there are magic words that once uttered will stop terrorists from coming after us?" she said.

"Trump, as usual, is obsessed with name calling, and from my perspective, it matters what we do, not just what we say. ... If Donald suggests I won't call this threat what it is, he has not been listening. But I will not demonize and declare war on an entire religion."

Obama similarly mocked Republicans who would argue that simply using the term "radical Islam" would help the administration defeat ISIS.

"That's the key, they tell us; we can't beat ISIL unless we call them radical Islamists," he said. 

"If there's anyone out there who thinks we're confused by who our enemies are, that would come as a surprise to the thousands of terrorists we've taken off the battlefield," he said.

Obama also pushed back on attacks from Trump and other Republicans that the administration is too focused on "political correctness."

The president said his refusal to use the phrase has "nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with actually defeating extremism."

Obama noted that he's repeatedly called on Muslim allies around the world to push back on the "twisted interpretation" of Islam.

Obama also slammed Trump's continued push for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States.

"This is a country founded on basic freedoms, including freedom of religion. We don't have religious tests here," Obama said.

"If we ever abandon those values, we would not only make it easier to radicalize people here and around the world, but we would have betrayed the very things we are trying to protect. I will not let that happen."

Updated at 1 p.m.