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White House Press Conference on Travel Ban; Obama Puts Out 1st Public Statement After Leaving Office; Trump Adds Bannon to National Security Council Meetings; White House Defends Trump Holocaust Statement; State Department Officials Draft Dissent Memo over Travel Ban. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired January 30, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:00] QUESTION: Sean, what's your level of concern about any kickback from some of these countries that are on that list of seven as far as how relations may work in the future? And some people obviously are critical of the fact that you have countries like for example mentioned, Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan where we have had attacks on U.S. soil with connections to those countries.
[14:30:06] So do you foresee those being added?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So are you asking what is our concern with their reaction to us?
SPICER: Look, I think the president's number one goal is the protection and safety of the United States and its people. If they want to act in a way that's inconsistent with their concerns, then that's up to them to do it as a sovereign nation but it is our duty and it is his duty to make sure that this country and its people are protect first and foremost.
QUESTION: Sean, the -- the Otto Reichi Group (ph), the human rights campaign has issued a statement saying that -- citing rumors that they're -- President Trump is about to sign a rule disagree (ph) -- an executive order that would undermine LGBT rights. Is the President considering any kind of disagree to order (ph) ...
SPICER: I'm going to get in and get ahead of the executive orders that we may or may not issue. There is a lot of executive orders, a lot of things that the President has talked about and will continue to fulfill, but we have nothing on that front now.
QUESTION: Any chance of the 90 ban being extended indefinitely?
SPICER: Right now, it is what it is. If the executive order calls for 90 days, to review those seven countries. And again at the end of that, that's -- we'll see where we go from there. But for right now, that's the goal of this.
QUESTION: And then on the Supreme Court, I don't believe you answered this question earlier. What was the reason that President Trump decided to move up his announcement from Thursday night to tomorrow night.
SPICER: Because he wanted to. I mean, in either way ...
QUESTION: I mean ...
SPICER: Oh, no -- no -- no. This is -- like he -- he -- he wanted to move it up. He was ready to go. He made his -- as he mentioned on Friday, he was making his decision. He made the decision and the President chose to go with it, plain and simple. There's really nothing more. QUESTION: The New York immigration coalition claims that a Syrian refugee was among the detainees (inaudible) of custody at JFK airport. Why was that individual allowed to enter the country? Was it a violation of President Trump's ...
SPICER: I think every individual that's gone through the process has gone through vetting, to make sure that they don't pose a threat to this country. So the individual must have gone through the system. I mean, that's pretty plain and simple.
QUESTION: But I thought ...
QUESTION: The family briefings were not on the President's schedule Tuesday, Wednesday, or Friday of last week. Not on there today either. Can you confirm that you have not received the daily briefing on those days?
SPICER: No, he gets it every day.
QUESTION: He gets it every day ...
SPICER: Stop, I get it. He gets it every day. I just answered the question.
QUESTION: Sean Thank you. Jihadist celebrated news of the travel ban over the weekend, indicating that they see it as a recruiting tool. Former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden, said that he believes this travel ban could make the U.S. less safe. So what do you say to those who argue this travel ban will make the country less safe?
SPICER: Again, lets go back and look at what it is. Seven countries that the Obama administration had already identified needed further travel restrictions.
QUESTION: But they didn't issue a ban.
SPICER: I understand that, but what I'm saying is, that the President recognizes that it's his duty and obligation to make sure that we keep this country safe and that he's going to -- and by instituting a process, by which we look at these countries over a 90 day period and the process by which people can come in and out of this country to ensure the safety of each and every one of us. I think is something that makes a heck of a lot sense. So I understand and I think in a lot of cases, and I say this respectfully, that I think some people have not read the -- what exactly the order says and are reading it through misguided media reports.
I mean that -- that's -- when you actually read the report and understand the nexus of it, and how it's working. And again look at how it worked when you talk about the 325,000 people, 109 were temporarily inconvenienced for the safety of us all.
QUESTION: One of them was a five year old from Tehran (inaudible) ...
SPICER: OK, and they were processed through, Kristen (ph), that's the process. I get my -- the point is that you can go through and nitpick and say well OK this individual is -- but that's why we slow it down a little and to make sure that if they are a five year old, that maybe they're with their parents, and they don't pose a threat. But to assume that just because of someone's age or gender, whatever, that they don't pose a threat would be misguided and wrong.
QUESTION: Let me just ask you about the roll out as well. Did Secretary Kelly find out about the executive order as it was being signed and did Secretary Mattis find out only after it ...
SPICER: Yeah, I -- look what I'm going to tell you is what has been briefed out previously, which is that all appropriate agencies and individuals that were -- needed to be part of the process were. Everybody was kept in the loop at the level necessary to make sure that we rolled it out properly.
QUESTION: ... On that note, and how much -- how well were the departments briefed? I mean you just put it yourself that the President is willing to act very quickly when he has to keep the country safe and so, is there a lesson to be learned from what happened last week in terms of maybe better preparing the departments that are relevant ...
SPICER: Look at -- let's -- but -- but you -- you right. I understand the question that you're asking but there's two things that have to be cleared up. On is if we announced this a lot earlier, it would have given people plenty of time to flood into the country who could have done us harm.
That's not exactly a sound strategy, right? So the people that needed to be kept in the loop, were kept in the loop. The people that needed to be briefed were. And if you -- again, I think that this is largely overblown, when you look at the context of how big this was and the number of people it caught up, it's relatively minor as a percentage of the overall total.
So when you look at how this worked on a Saturday, 109 had a out of 325,000 were slowed down going in to -- I truly believe that it is being blown out of proportion, the extent to which this actually was -- for what it did. And I think frankly government functioned very well. We made sure that the people coming in weren't coming in to do us harm, we made sure that the people who said that they went back to a country that was one of those seven did so without any intent to do this country or people harm, and they all got in after the screen. The system actually worked really well, that's the takeaway from this, that the system worked well, the country is safer for it.
QUESTION: Do you want to respond to the former president?
QUESTION: Can you answer how many -- I know you said 109 over the last 24 hours since the executive order, how many went through since that 24 hours have been detained for a number of hours (ph)?
SPICER: Yeah, I don't -- to my knowledge, I can try to get you that number, I don't believe it's many. The idea was those were the folks that were basically caught in transit when the executive order was issued. Then it becomes a prospective thing that they're applying through their country. So, again, it almost should be a minimal amount if any because that primary, initial wave were the people that were in transit when the executive order was executed.
The rest of them weren't allowed to actually enter back and are going through the process through their -- through the consulate and regular system. So, it is actually a pretty easy way of ensuring that the system worked well.
QUESTION: Just to clean up something you said earlier in the briefing, you said with respect to the career diplomats at the State Department who disagree and are signing this...
QUESTION: ...Cable (ph) that they should get with the program or they can go. Are you suggesting they should resign their posts in the State Department (ph)?
SPICER: Well, I'm just saying the -- the president has a very clear vision. He's been clear on it since the campaign, he's been clear on it since taking office that he's going to put the safety of this country first, he's going to implement things that are in the best interest of protecting this country prospectively, not reactively, and if somebody has a problem with that agenda, then -- then they should -- you know, that does call into question whether or not they should continue in that post or not.
But the president was elected -- and I think again, look at the polls that have come out so far. The American people support what the president's doing. Everyone in here needs to get out of Washington once in a while and go talk to people throughout America that are pleased that this president is taking the steps necessary to protect this country. And so, I do -- look, I know -- I know the president appreciates the people who serve this nation and the public servants, but at some point, if they have a big problem with the policies that he's instituting to keep the country safe, then that's up to them to question whether or not they want to stay or not. But I do think that again you've got to remember the goal of what the president's doing.
QUESTION: What's the president's message to send Democrats who have clearly signaled their intention to filibuster the Supreme Court nominee. What is the president's thinking?
SPICER: It's not just the president's message, I think the American people's message. They want change, they wanted bold and decisive leadership. That's what they voted for in Donald Trump in November. And I think for Senate Democrats to look at this opportunity after the election to slow walk and play political games with these people who are unbelievably qualified to lead the candidates (ph) or the choice that they've made before -- I mean, think about this.
He met with a bunch of Senate Democrats to talk about the qualities they want in a judge. And before they even heard who this individual is, you've got some of them saying "absolutely no." I mean, that just shows you that it's all about politics, it's not about qualification -- the president has a right to have his nominees taken up. That is part of -- and so for them, it is going -- the default used to be unless qualified, confirmed.
And it is now going to always no and I think that's a pretty sad message, not just what they heard from the president but I think that they heard loud and clear from the American people and especially if you think of where the Democratic party has gone in the last eight years, they've lost seats at every level, they were supposed to take back the Senate, they didn't, they're at a very -- Republicans did very well in the House, we won the presidency, the president won 9 of 13 battleground states, 33 states overall, 2,600 counties.
The message came through loud and clear that the American people wanted decisive leadership. They're getting it. I think if you're a Senate Democrat, you've got to wonder or not whether or not you're getting outside of Washington enough.
Thank you guys very much, I'll see you tomorrow.
[14:40:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar. And we have just been watching the White House briefing.
A lot here to digest so I want to bring in Gloria Borger as well as Pamela Brown.
You heard there, Gloria, that there was this defense very much of this travel ban.
Also, I should say we do have breaking news. President Obama has put out his first public statement since leaving office.
I want to start with that, Gloria. We have this here.
This is about the travel ban and some of the protests that we have seen. He said -- his spokesman says, "President Obama is heartened by the level of engagement taking place in communities around the country. In his final official speech as president, he spoke about the important role of citizens and how all Americans have a responsibility to be the guardians of our democracy, not just during an election, but every day. Citizens exercising their constitutional right to assemble, organize, and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake. With regard to comparisons to President Obama's foreign policy decisions, as we've heard before, the president fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion."
This is significant, Gloria, that we are here less than two weeks into the Trump administration and the former president has weighed in.
[14:40:47] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean President Obama had told us, quite forthrightly, before he left office that there were a few things that he would engage on. And when he thought that our values -- that America's values were at stake that he would engage. And that's what you see in that statement. Because what he did was he effectively called this immigration shift a question of - a religious ban, which the current administration believes that it is not. And so, you have a former president, less than two weeks, weighing in on the current president. Which, by the way, President Obama, as you know would rather not do since he appreciated the way President Bush behaved when he became president. And that that he kind of sat back. But I think it's quite clear that Obama feels quite strongly about this.
And what we heard from Sean Spicer today on this immigration ban was that he believes that the reaction is completely overblown. And I think he would probably believe that Barack Obama's reaction to it is overblown. He seemed to think that everybody was exaggerating the issue over the weekend, that only 109 people had been detained. And that was surely worth the safety, as he put it, of 324 million Americans. So, he thinks that the impact has been blown way out of proportion and exaggerated. And that is the fight that we're going to have. And now the former president has just weighed in on it.
KEILAR: And he also said, with regard to comparisons to President Obama's foreign policy decisions -- he is talking about the 2011 pause that we saw that actually a lot of administration officials from the Obama years says there was actually a pause. There were Iraqi refugees coming in.
BORGER: There were.
KEILAR: They were just getting more stringent vetting. And they are rejecting totally out-right that comparison that we've heard the Trump administration use.
So, Pamela, to you, because I know you have new reporting on how officials and departments, who really should have been looped in on this travel ban were caught off guard.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You heard administration officials in the White House say they had been working with various agencies ahead of this executive order, but I spoke to the former head of the Customs and Border Protections, who just resigned January 20th, who said he had been given no word about this travel ban before leaving office and nor did his staff. He said there were a couple of meetings with the transition before he left office but there was no discussion of this travel ban. And he said normally, with something of this magnitude where you have to tell the agents what's going on, and when Trump wrote the executive order, it would take weeks to be able to come up with a plan, and alert everyone in the field, thousands of Custom and Border Protection agents about what to expect, how to handle the situation. As we know, Briana, there was mass confusion over the weekend at DHS because the operational agents, the officers in charge of implementing this executive order, were learn being it as President Trump was signing the executive order. So not only did they have to figure out what it meant for those newly banned passengers on U.S.-bound planes, but also what it meant for green-card holders in those seven countries. So, there was a lot of confusion.
Now you know Secretary Kelly has issued this statement clarifying that green-card holders in those seven countries can come to the U.S. absent derogatory information. But it's striking that it took two days, Brianna, for this statement to come out and for the facts of what this executive order means to come out.
I can tell you that officials who are in charge of the implementation were certainly caught off guard on Friday.
KEILAR: You are talking about an official who left when the Obama administration ended, right?
BROWN: Yes, this official left on January 20th. And --
KEILAR: OK. There also seemed to be confusion, though, even just from folks who were in there, even from the secretary of Homeland Security and those maybe immediately around him, about what was going on. Right?
BROWN: That's right. So, what we're told through our sources at Department of Homeland Security, as President Trump was signing this executive order the new Homeland Security secretary as well as other career leadership at DHS were basically being fully briefed for the first time on the details of this executive order -- Brianna?
[14:45:17] KEILAR: He said that -- he said that the people who needed to be briefed and who needed to be kept in the loop were. So, Sean Spicer insisting on that.
Now, there --
BROWN: Could I just add one little thing quickly?
KEILAR: Yeah, go ahead.
BROWN: Because it is true that there are political appointees tied to the Trump team stationed at DHS in the front office. But from what we're doing Hollywood told, there was not communication between the political appointee and those who would actually be in charge of enforcing the executive order. I think that's where we're seeing a little bit of the divide -- Brianna?
KEILAR: Or who could say, look, this may not work as you intend it to work. Raising red flags there. That's a good point.
Sara Murray -- I want to bring in Sara Murray, who has been covering this. She is joining us from the White House briefing room.
I want you to listen something. This is a different topic, having to do with Steve Bannon, arguably, President Trump's top adviser, being given a permanent slot on the Principles Committee of the National Security Council. As we see the DNI and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs essentially demoted, taken off of that permanent group. Here's what Sean Spicer said in reaction to suggestions that this is quite the change.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICEDR: This is the Principles Committee in 2017. And this is the 2001 Principles Committee. It is literally 100 percent the same. 2001 and 2017 are identical. So, this idea that there has been a change or a downgrade is utter nonsense.
With respect to the Joint Chiefs, in particular, the president holds Chairman Dunford in the highest regard. The suggestion that he would downgrade the important role that the chairman plays in matters of national security reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the tremendous respect that the president holds for both the chairman himself and the Joint Chiefs as a whole.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Sara Murray, dissect that for us. It was pretty interesting that Sean Spicer came out armed with visual aids there.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: He had visual aids, printouts. You heard him say utter nonsense. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs and DNI will still be involved in these meetings.
I think one of the things when you talk to former officials who were involved in the NSC, they say what is alarming is to have Steve Bannon in these meetings.
To me what it tells you is that Steve Bannon is essential on equal footing or higher footing than Reince Priebus in the eyes of President Trump. He views him as a second chief of staff. But some officials are concerned that this is yet another way to politicize this decision-making process.
When Sean Spicer was giving his briefing, he pointed out that David Axelrod would come in and out of these meeting. But that's not the same thing as having a permanent seat on the Principles Committee.
And it does sort of raise questions about sort of what they expect Steve Bannon to be weighing in on, what kinds of expertise he brings to the table. Because, obviously, he does not have experience, he does have a background in national security and in foreign policy. KEILAR: No, it is a very good point. Some people have made the point
that David Axelrod came in and out because he could lend expertise of what politically was achievable even if you're talking about foreign policy. But you point out this is a different position.
MURRAY: That's right. This is a different position, because we are talking about him having a permanent seat, being in all of these meetings. Sean Spicer said maybe Steve Bannon will be in some of them, maybe he won't be in other ones. That was sort of the David Axelrod situation. This makes it much more formalized, much more permanent, assures his seat at the table going forward. I think that's a concern or some people. It's also a concern for people because they look at Steve Bannon as someone they don't know well, don't know his personality or judgment very well. And they look at "Breitbart" as a proxy for Steve Bannon, and say this is a guy who used his website to promote conspiracy theories. Is that really the person we want this the room for these decisions?
But, again, the president has wide latitude to pick his team. This is a good indication of how he plans to use the advisors going forward.
KEILAR: Gloria, let's talk about the Holocaust statement. There was, in acknowledging the anniversary of the shutdown of Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp, there was a Holocaust statement that was written by the White House. And it certainly paid tribute to those who were lost in the Holocaust. But it did not specifically talk about Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. And that was something in a lot of people found very startling. Because you did not see that with President Obama. You didn't see that with President George W. Bush. Sean Spicer tried to say no, that's not -- you know, he was saying George W. Bush didn't have it in his statement. Abby Phillip, of the "Washington Post," pointed out actually he did.
Talk about this, this back and forth. The White House says it wasn't an oversight. What's going on here?
[14:50:11] BORGER: Again, it's -- Sean Spicer, throughout this press conference, effectively, tried to downgrade anybody's concerns about what concerned, whether it was on the immigration order or Steve Bannon being appointed as a principle to the National Security Council or whether it's this Holocaust memo. The Holocaust memo was found to be quite offensive by many Jewish group, including the Republican Jewish coalition. And people have spoken forthrightly about it. I know that Sean Spicer believes there is no reason that they feel this way, but they do. And he didn't quite acknowledge that they did feel this way. He called the outcry pathetic. But the fact that Jews were not mentioned is something that many people took great offense at.
If I might go back to the Steve Bannon issue again, because, you know, we have to step back and say, wait a minute, this is the first time in American political history that someone's chief political strategist has been appointed to this august group which is responsible for our national security. I have been corresponding with David Axelrod, who is a colleague of all of ours, and he said to me that he was not a member of the Principles Committee, that he never spoke, and that he was rarely there. So, that he believes that any kind of notion that you could equate what he did with what Steve Bannon's position will be is just not true.
I know he is going to be on speaking with Anderson about this later, but I just wanted to represent his views here about the equivalency between his role and Steve Bannon's role.
KEILAR: Gloria, to tie these two things, Steve Bannon and this statement together -- not saying that he was involved -- I don't know if he was involved in the statement. But one of the reasons it seems that folks will not give Donald Trump latitude on this is, in part, because of Steve Bannon and the fact that "Breitbart" has championed the Alt-Right, which is certainly -- I guess you could describe it as a group that is -- linked to like a nebulous group of thought that has to do with homophobia, anti-feminism, xenophobia and, yes, anti- Semitism. And you have also got, as a candidate, Donald Trump retweeted an anti-Semitic image and was unapologetic to it.
BORGER: Sean Spicer's answer to all of this is that it is a conspiracy theory and everybody should know that Donald Trump is a friend of Israel and this is ludicrous, ridiculous, and pathetic. But to deny that there is this preexisting narrative there about certain people in the administration is to deny what even Jewish groups are thinking about. And I think this is something that eventually the president himself may have to take on, you know, directly, because there is all of this swirling out there. And to just push it aside and say it's an exaggeration, it's overblown, it's unrealistic, it's pathetic, it's not true, really doesn't answer the concerns that people have. And at some point, I think you kind of have to take that head on.
KEILAR: We will see if he does.
Gloria Borger, thank you to you, as well As Sara Murray and Pamela Brown for us.
Now Sean Spicer just responded to a possible showdown within the State Department as well. CNN has obtained a draft memo from dozens of career diplomats who say the president's executive order will actually hurt efforts to prevent terror attacks in the U.S.
I want to discuss this with RNC committee member, Randy Evans, who has close ties to White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus; and Daniel Benjamin, who is a former State Department counterterrorism coordinator.
And, Daniel, first to you.
This is a five-page memo, it warns that this travel ban, Trump's travel ban, quote, "will immediately sour relations" with countries whose government are, quote, "important allies and partners in the fight against terrorism regionally and globally."
What is your assessment of that?
DANIEL BENJAMIN, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT COUNTERTERRORISM COORDINATOR: I wholly concur with that assessment. Why we are offending Iraqis, for example, when they are our ground force combatting ISIS is entirely beyond me. And the thought that we are going to also offend Saudi Arabia with this anti-Muslim ban. You know, Saudi is one of our most important intelligence partners in counter-terrorism. The whole thing to my mind has informing to do with counter terrorism and everything to do with domestic politics and I think it's incredibly counter-productive.
[14:55:18] KEILAR: Randy, what do you think? Get with the program or go? That's what Sean Spicer said in relation to this idea that there will be dissent.
RANDY EVANS, RNC COMMITTEE MEMBER: I think the bottom line is that people should understand what the order is and what it's not. It's not anti-Muslim. There are 40 other countries that aren't on the list. This is seven specific countries that were identified by the Obama administration that present a unique risk. And the purpose of the order was to say we're not going to take more risk with American lives. It may inconvenience a few dozen travelers here and there, but if it saves one American life, we view that as a positive.
KEILAR: You are making quite a cognitive leap between saying there were seven countries identified as having serious internal issues with terrorism and then going to what is a travel ban here. I mean, that's -- that list was not an execution of what Donald Trump has done.
EVANS: That's exactly what it was. It was a ban to say we're -- we'll have a moratorium on travel from those seven countries. Notice the word Muslim does not appear in the order anywhere. Notice that the rest of the Muslim countries are not mentioned anywhere.
KEILAR: Religion does, religion appear in the orders. On page four, it says to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis on religious-based persecution, provided that the religion is a minority religion in the countries of nationality. In Syria, that would highlight Christians, even though in a number of these other countries in this ban, you have more Christians who have been given refugee status than when you look at population, in Iraq, for instance.
EVANS: Notice the shift you -- notice the shift. The shift was from, what about protection, to persecution. Here, the reference to religious orientation or affiliation was refugee status to those who have been persecuted. So literally, what we have is an order that protects Americans from people who want to do us harm. And it protects minority religious groups in other countries who are being persecuted. This is a protection order. It's not a persecution order. That's the part that really gets turned on its head, which is, there's nothing in the order that actually is designed to harm anyone. It is designed to protect Americans and protect religious minorities in other countries.
KEILAR: Daniel, what do you think about that?
BENJAMIN: Well, I don't think it's going to protect anyone. Over time a policy like this will ultimately increase the threat of a terrorist attack against Americans, in part, because it confirms the jihadist narrative that we are anti-Muslim and, in part, because it will age State people who are on the fence right now, particularly those in the United States, and may lead them to carry out violent attack. We have seen this kind of thing happen before. Let's remember, no one has come into this country since 9/11 to carry out the kind of attack that this order seems to be aimed at preventing. All of the killings, all the jihadist killings that have taken place were carried out by people who are either citizens of the United States or permanent legal residents. So, this is a complete misfire. And you don't think it has anything to do with protecting us.
EVANS: If you look around the world, you will see where radical jihadists, radical Islamic jihadists have spread throughout. And we don't want them here. We don't want them coming to the United States. I know you may be OK for them to go to Paris or go to Brussels, or go to some other country. President Trump said, well we are not going to let them come here. That's what this is designed to do.
And to suggest, somehow, they would be more agitated than beheading people, more agitated than burning people in cages is really kinds of ignoring the reality of the situation.
BENJAMIN: That's just not what I said. I'm talking about --
EVANS: They are already agitated. They already want to kill.
BENJMAIN: That's not what I said.
EVANS: OK, well, that's what I thought you said.
BENJAMIN: No. What I said was people in the United States who are at risk of being radicalized are more likely to be radicalized by initiatives like this. And that is quite clear. And there is a track record of that. We know it, for example, from the Boston Marathon bombers. This was exactly the kinds of stimulus that turned them in the wrong direction.
KEILAR: And, Daniel, I'm going to have to wrap you up only because -- I'm sorry, I know we are going to lose your signal in just a few minutes.
Thank you for being with us, along with Randy. Thank you, gentlemen, to both of you.
(CROSSTALK) KEILAR: One of two Muslim Congressmen are calling Donald Trump's ban un-American. One of them is joining me now, Indiana Congressman, Andre Carson. He was the first Muslim to serve on the House --