WASHINGTON, D.C.: President Donald Trump seized on the London terror attack to demand the US ban on travelers from some Muslim countries be reinstated on Monday (Tuesday in Manila), sparking a diplomatic row with Britain and jeopardizing his legal defense of the measure in the process.
In the wake of Saturday’s deadly attack, Trump renewed calls for a travel crackdown, while attacking London’s Muslim mayor, the media, Democrats, judges and opponents who accuse him of playing the politics of fear.
Trump has made combating jihadists a central plank of his politics, using deliberately inflammatory rhetoric and attacking the “political correctness” of those advocating a nuanced approach.
The “special relationship” with Britain became the latest casualty of that hardline stance on Monday.
With the seven victims of Saturday’s attack not yet buried, Trump repeatedly criticized London Mayor Sadiq Khan, whom he accused of playing down the terror threat.
Khan had warned Londoners that an increased police presence in the wake of the attacks was nothing to worry about.
Trump misconstrued that statement, and went on to accuse Khan of making up a “pathetic excuse” for his remarks.
“We must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people. If we don’t get smart it will only get worse,” Trump said.
Privately, British officials – many of whom call London home – were incandescent with rage.
‘Feud and division’
Prime Minister Theresa May, who is under growing pressure to denounce Trump ahead of Thursday’s election, came to Khan’s defense.
“I think Sadiq Khan is doing a good job and it’s wrong to say anything else – he’s doing a good job,” she said, despite the pair being from opposite political parties.
May had already faced pressure to criticize Trump or even withdraw his invitation for a state visit after he pulled out of a global climate deal and edged away from collective security arrangements under NATO.
Khan, London’s first Muslim mayor told British media he had “better and more important things to focus on” than responding to Trump’s tweets.
“Some people thrive on feud and division. We are not going to let Donald Trump divide our communities,” he later added.
In the United States, many veteran diplomats and officials decried Trump’s remarks.
“To my friends in the UK: I apologize for this,” said Ben Rhodes, a former national security aide to Barack Obama.
New York Mayor Bill De Blasio said Khan was “doing an extraordinary job supporting Londoners in a time of pain. President Trump’s attack on him is unacceptable.”
The White House later tried to play down Trump’s tweets.
“I don’t see that the president is picking a fight with the mayor of London at all,” said spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
She accused the media of putting “spin” on the issue.
“I think the point is, is there is a reason to be alarmed. We have constant attacks going on, not just there, but across the globe, and we have to start putting national security and global security at an all-time high,” she said.